Author Intrusion - Brackets
by Marg McAlister
"Author intrusion" is what happens when the writer accidentally breaks the
"story spell" for the reader, by reminding them that they are reading. Usually it happens because the author feels
a strong need to pass along some extra information - and doesn't think twice about butting into the narrative to do
so. The reader gets the uncomfortable feeling that the action of the story has been suspended while the author
tells the reader whatever he thinks they should know. Quite often, it's something they could have figured out for
One of the ways this can happen is when the author uses BRACKETS to explain something in more detail. Most of the
time, there's really no reason at all to do this.
The problem with using brackets is that the author almost always starts TELLING the reader about the action, rather
than letting them experience it for themselves.
It's a bit like tapping the reader on the shoulder to explain -- which is not polite! You might as well be butting
in to say "Hang on, there's something else I think you should know…" and dragging the reader's attention away from
the story to listen to you.
Here's an example. The setup is this: After a long day, Maria has finally got to sit down and take the weight off
her feet with a nice cup of coffee. Let's see what happens in the story…
Maria sank into the well-worn armchair and propped
her aching feet on the coffee table.
She reached for her coffee and sipped slowly, savouring the new blend. (She missed her chocolate biscuits,
though. The minute she was down to her goal weight, they'd be back on the menu.)
Can you see what is happening here? The author thinks that we should know about
the fact that Maria misses her chocolate biscuits -- but for some reason thinks that this doesn't belong in her
stream of thoughts.
WHY does the author think this? After all, we can assume that Maria is thinking about how she misses her chocolate
biscuits. So why not just tap into these thoughts as well as her other thoughts about being able to sit down at
last, and how she's looking forward to savouring the new blend?
Re-read the example quoted above. Can you see how, by putting brackets around the thoughts about the chocolate
biscuits, it's giving the impression that the author is EXPLAINING something to the reader?
Luckily, this problem of author intrusion is easy to fix. (I wish everything in writing were this easy!)
All you have to do to improve this is DELETE THE BRACKETS.
Sometimes, with other scenes or paragraphs, you might need to rewrite the text a little to make it flow -- but not
on this occasion.
Now let's read it again.
She reached for her coffee and sipped slowly, savouring the new blend. She missed her
chocolate biscuits, though. The minute she was down to her goal weight, they'd be back on the
We didn't have to change a thing. Now, Maria's thoughts about missing her
chocolate biscuits blend with the narrative. The reading experience is uninterrupted: no unwanted author
Who would have thought that simply removing a set of brackets would make such a difference?
The bottom line is this: Avoid using brackets in your narrative. Instead, tap into your character's thoughts. This
one simple tip can make a bit difference in the reader's experience!
Copyright Marg McAlister