All stories with omniscient narrators, narrators who tell rather than show the story, are technically narratively intrusive. In these stories, the author reports on the setting, the characters and the plot of the story, in third-person, making comments and conclusions throughout. The intrusive narrator was very popular in literature until the 20th century. It was used by many novelists, including Leo Tolstoy, George Eliot and Henry Fielding.
Political and Judgmental Forms of Narrative Intrusions
Narrative intrusion, also known as authorial intrusion, pulls the reader’s attention out of the main story and calls attention to the narrator himself or to something else within the story. Narrative intrusion comes in a variety of forms. A writer may insert a speech with his comments about a particular political event, siding with one side or another. A writer may make a judgmental statement about a character’s greed or comment favorably about a forbidden love affair.
Other Forms of Narrative Intrusions
Narrative intrusion can also be much less judgmental. The writer’s commentary does not necessarily have to be negative, judgmental or political to be a narrative intrusion. For instance, a writer may release tension within a story by calling attention to a vase or some other object in the room where the tension is building, and tell the reader the history of that object. Or a writer may simply interrupt the narrative and address the reader directly within the story.
Example of a Narrative Intrusion
In Charlotte Brontë’s “Jane Eyre,” Jane Eyre is the first-person narrator, but Brontë often intrudes and speaks to the reader directly, even using the word “reader." For example, Brontë writes: “A new chapter in a novel is something like a new scene in a play; and when I draw up the curtain this time, reader, you must fancy you see a room in the George Inn at Millcote, with such large figured papering on the walls as inns have; such a carpet, such furniture, such ornaments on the mantle-piece…”
Examples of Unintentional Narrative Intrusions
Unintentional narrative intrusions are characteristic of an inexperienced writer and of bad writing. An example of an unintentional narrative intrusion is a first-person narrative, which on occasion includes observations and thoughts that belong to a character who is not the narrator. Other examples are completely inconsistent descriptions of characters or the setting and inexplicable holes in the plot.
Contemporary Views on Narrative Intrusion
While narrative intrusion was a common literary device in the past, it is much less common in contemporary writing. As a result, if it is not present in the story in a consistent manner, it is often seen as a mistake. This kind of mistake, which comes from writer’s inexperience, is often a sign of bad writing.