Intruder words

Writer Bryan Thomas Schmidt recently made a nice post about using “intruder words” in writing. I had never heard the phrase before, but I think I understand what they are. As Schmidt says:

‘Wondered, felt, thought, saw, knew, heard,’ etc. are all ‘intruder’ words. They intrude on the action, by stating extemporaneously what can be written more actively. They pull us out of the intimate POV of the character and throw things into telling or passiveness.

When we experience everyday life, we don’t consciously think about the mechanics of our own perceptions. Our focus is on our experiences themselves. So when we want to make the reader experience a story from a character’s POV, reminding the reader of those mechanics tends weaken the illusion (unless, I suppose, the character is consciously thinking about those mechanics himself).

Looking back through my novel-in-progress, I use “intruder words” a lot. I am guilty, guilty, guilty. “Thravien jumped when he noticed the silhouette of a man…” “Thravien heard his heart beating.” “Quoll heard nothing but gushing water.” “Thravien didn’t see Sinta’s ship…” “Thravien watched the ships…” It is definitely something I will have to keep in mind as I finish writing a first draft and begin a second draft. So many of my sentences can be reworded to put the reader deeper into the characters’ experiences.

This might be a topic for another post, but I wonder if this might be why reading about glances and glares annoys me as a reader. “He gave her an amused glance.” “She returned an annoyed glance.” “They shared a thoughtful glance.” Bleh! If I am called to imagine the look of a glance, then I have to step outside the character and watch him like a camera-man. It takes me out of the experience of being that character. And my imagination can choose the appropriate look of a glance quite well on its own, thank you very much.

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