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Know Jack #347 The Unseen Hand

“The Great Oz has spoken…pay no attention to that man behind the curtain!”

From the Wizard of Oz

There is a certain amount of magic and wizardry that goes into writing a novel. The author must be able to transform himself into the people in the story to figure out what they are doing and why they are doing it. Then, he must transform back again (not always as easy as it sounds). The author must be able to project himself through time and space and remotely view the setting his characters are moving around in, all while commanding the weather.

Generally speaking, to be really believable in his role, the author must remain out of sight behind the curtain while letting his voice come through. Of course, there are great stories in which the author is the narrator, but even then, he is usually in disguise.

I have spoken before about selling the lie you are telling by using more truth than falsehood, requiring the writer to research his subject. When the lie doesn’t make sense, the story becomes too outrageous and readers like me will lose interest. There’s a famous author (who, as sales attest, knows more about the game than I do) whose books I stopped reading after the third one because it seemed her protagonist had taken a semester or two of every subject known to man and so was always prepared for every crisis.

I’m a fan of old westerns. Have you ever noticed that John Wayne’s movies tended to have a core of actors that appeared in every movie in some role? Another famous author is well known for pretty much the same thing. He has stock stereotypes that are in every book. The fools, the evil, and the ignorant savages in his books are endowed with the beliefs and politics the writer dislikes. On the other hand, the heroes, and good guys all come from a certain part of the country and share the author’s views.

There’s nothing wrong with that except for some readers (like me) noticing and putting the book down never to buy another. I learned as a young man the television had a Power button that was capable of exiting the screen. Books aren’t much different.

Which, finally, brings me back to my main point—author invisibility. Hide inside the characters, but don’t pull their strings. Use the character’s senses/actions/dialog to let the reader see the scene, not the author standing behind the curtain telling them what’s going on.

Writers have favorite word choices, which is not a bad thing. You want readers to recognize that voice behind the curtain without seeing the face attached to it. Simply be aware of word choices and don’t fall into a rut—your voice will still come through.

My favorite thing about being an author is hiding under the bed and grabbing the reader when they are looking the other way.


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