Why We Hate It When Authors Write Themselves Into Books We Love
Great writers are those who help us to view our world differently, challenge our ideas and our opinions. They enable us to appreciate things we never have before and to come up with novel ways of putting together old knowledge to form something completely new. Their description elicit images of what we haven’t seen before but now have the ability to imagine through the way the use language. They give us a blanket of familiarity in which to wrap ourselves as well as the chance to travel to far off places we may never have the chance to visit in real life but feel that we have after reading their work.
The best books cast a spell over us. They let us get lost in the world of suspended disbelief and invite us to forget that this world we’ve now become invested in and the characters we have grown attached to are all made up by the author. Being lost can sometimes feel so perfect. It holds the capability of choosing which world we want to be a part of while muting the one we really live in, even if only for a short while.
As I read a great book, I have the need to process everything. to think about and rework what I read. I personalize the way I view the characters which helps me empathize with them. I rework the details of the story’s narrative into something that makes sense to me when I express it to myself. The effect of a book that has touched me in someway continues long after I have closed it’s cover. It gives me something to contemplate and consider, something to examine or relate to during unpredictable moments.
Sometimes a wonderful book will give me the words to define something that I haven’t been able to before, things I had a sense of but couldn’t express either to myself or to others. At times I’ll find a passage in a book that helps me cope better with the realities of my life when I am forced to return to it after putting the volume down. The better a book is, the that more it will hold me in its grasp, making me late for just about everything else as I swear this it really the last chapter.
All of this becomes less likely and far harder to accomplish, however, when the writer takes the liberty of writing themselves into their novel. I think a big part of this is that we want to believe we came upon all of these discoveries ourselves. When an author inserts themselves into the story, it has a tendency to break the trance, preventing us from escaping our more stressful or mundane real life, and seems to suggest that there is no magic in the real world. Sometimes it can feel cruel.
When the author is there with us in the story and interacts with the characters directly, we can feel like all of our discoveries weren’t truly ours at all. We view everything we have come to know about what happens in the book as nothing more than the author’s construction, seeing whatever we feel we learned, as belonging to them. It seems as if it’s all just what they intended for us to see and to comprehend which they merely taught to us largely without our involvement. The author’s presence can detract from our ability to view a story from our own point of view based on our unique way of perceiving things.
Without the author’s presence we relate to what occurs in a novel based on our own perception. In part, this is dictated by what we choose to attend to which is influenced by our individual interests, attractions, history, background, experiences, relationships and beliefs about how the world works. We can’t perceive what we don’t take note of. The various elements of a novel will resonate differently for each of us and there may be some things certain people notice that others don’t, which has to do with what we find meaningful.
This is not to say we shouldn’t appreciate the craft of storytelling, the composition of a skillfully imparted plot, that is artfully paced and told through three dimensional characters. But the individual aspects we pay particular attention to, those which resonate with us which we use to create our version of the story within the author’s, are based on who we are not who they are.
In this way, we construct our own understanding of the book along with a host of other things that are off the page. This gives the novel added “legs,” such that it becomes increasingly relatable to us in terms of our lives, our dreams and fantasies, our successes and failures, our beliefs, our relationships and our general world view. The author has provided the framework for all of this to happen and by stepping away from their story, shows that they trust us to take it where we will. They share their work with us by letting the story become ours ours as well. One way they do this is by not looking over our shoulder, waiting to correct our course when we deviate from their intent or view of the stories meaning.
An author writes with a purpose in mind, and chooses to tell a specific story in a particular way through the stories characters, selected literary devices and techniques. In this way they are already in the tale even if not as an actual character. Like the reader, what the author imparts is determined by their own preferences, perceptions, world view, and understanding of how people interact. When they feel the need to take it a step farther, however, by jumping into the book themselves their influence can feel a bit too much for us.
We may even come to see this feigned transparency as a bluff which serves some sort of meta literary function for the author. So, along with resenting them for hijacking our perceptions, we may also feel annoyed by the sense that they aren’t even doing it honestly but only as a part of the technique they use to construct the prose.
When they fully place themselves there within the pages, it can feel heavy handed and even, at times, manipulative. When an author tears down the wall of illusion that stands between them and us, the sudden transparency can feel like when the curtain is pulled open exposing the wizard in the land of Oz with the same result. The magic needed to fully transport us somewhere else, disappears.
This leaves us with a novel which though perhaps brilliantly written from a technique standpoint, lacks the power of transformation. This power is generated through our effort to uncover the meaning of the story and the characters through which it unfolds such that we come to our own understanding of the work in a way that is individually meaningful to us. To do this, we must be left to our own devices, without the author holding our hand by traveling into the novel with us.