You don't want author commentary. It reads as implausible, dilutes tension, pushes readers out of the story, and will drive any writer-reader absolutely mental.
So, are you guilty? Check out these five common-taries...
1. Statement 'o' Obvious
Essentially a product of telling when you should be showing (or telling something you've already shown in order to make sure the reader 'got it'), Statement 'o' Obvious usually looks something like:
- One FBI Agent character tells another FBI Agent character "With the Chief cutting costs everywhere, it's going to be that much harder to hunt down our multi-billionaire, jet-setting suspect..."
- Frequent use of dialogue akin to: "I know you already know this, but...", "As you know...", "Like I said last time..."
- In a romance titled Don't Leave Me that centers on the middleaged cop named Frank whose wife left him last year and whose best friend just got shot: "Frank was frightened of spending the rest of his life alone."
2. Info Dumpado
Hello. My name is Aimee. I'm an Info Dumpado Aficionado. It's been three chapters since my last backstory download...
- Info Dumpado is the scene where seventeen pages are dedicated to a blow-by-blow of the history of bad-blood between the warring brothers currently ruling two factions of your fantasy world.
- In a "touching" scene between your protagonist and her hero, three years of backstory is covered wherein he explains every girlfriend who ever dumped him, how he felt about it, and why it still haunts him to this day.
- It's dialogue punctuated by frequent use of "[Character] did [ghastly action] and then [other character] responded with [equally ghastly action]. Then we all..." etc, etc, etc, ad nauseum.
3. Character Wonderment
You know that moment, when something important happens, but it's subtle? Just a look, or a single sentence of dialogue that you - the author - know is IMPORTANT, but the reader might not catch it? Character Wonderment is the unnecessary pause in action when the POV character thinks...
- "...That other character just looked as me as if she was angry. But I have no reason to believe she's angry with me. I'd better file away that GUT INSTINCT that tells me she's angry just in case something happens later that would lead me to believe someone might have a murderous rage boiling in their veins against me."
- "...if I hadn't known better, I would have thought he was lying to me."
- "...While scrubbing himself in the shower, Gus considered Tracey's words the night before. Had she been flirting with him? And why did she frown and refuse the drink her Nasty Boss Nathan offered? Hmmm.... Maybe Gus would keep an eye on him."
4. Preaching to the Choir
When an author has a message, sometimes the message supercedes the story. And the people who came along for the ride get lashings of Fire and Brimstone when they're really looking for angels:
- It's the moment the green-loving environmentalist author creates a Serious And Educated Park Ranger in Murder in Yellowstone who proceeds to spend two pages 'telling the hero' about the environmental effects of littering in a national park.
- It's the closet spiritualist who writes a thriller-romance wherein the Pro-Tennis Playing Protagonist is 'coached' by a strangely sage-like young African woman whose step-by-step meditation program singlehandedly saves the day when normal athletic pursuits prove unsuccessful.
- It's two characters who adhere to polar-opposite ends of the political spectrum and argue economic policy for seven pages during a dinner-party.
5. Don't Hate Me 'Cos I'm a Beautiful Writer
Offenders are authors who use six-syllable words to explain a simple concept. Or whose prose is so beautiful and skillfully crafted, the reader spends more time thinking about the words themselves, than the story they depict. AKA:
- Progenators of prose who apply recondite idiom to elucidate an elementary supposition.
- Hark! Words fall from her pomegranate lips (whose passion is plumped, calling me) with the artiface of the heroes of olde. The Bard could only creep in her shadow, cringing 'neath the weight of her glory, when yon branch did lie aslant the brook.
Clear as mud? Good...that's kind of the point...
Your Turn: What author commentary mistakes do you make, or do you see in work around you?