Friday, August 27, 2010

Slaying the Dragon of Authorial Intrusion

or, The Devil is in Zac Efron's Details

I recently had the extreme misfortune of seeing a film in which everything that can go wrong with both writing and directing came together in a glorious, ghastly, gooey mess and intended to write a post on the Charlie St. Cloud Drinking Game.

(For those wondering, the Game includes such rules as:

*  Take a drink every time a character calls a friend or family member by name, and

*  Drink every time Charlie repeats himself... Repeats himself.)

But that will have to wait.  For one thing, it promotes rapid inebriation -- something I really don't condone.  For another, while searching for the answer to "How did Burr Steers ever get allowed to direct Zac Efron after the execrable 17 Again?" I ran across an article Andrew Goldman wrote for the September 2010 issue of Details Magazine.

Now, Mr. Goldman is an accomplished writer who has a long and rich publishing history with such powerhouse publications as New York Magazine and ELLEDetails has featured his articles on Matt Damon and Ashton Kutcher.  In the world of celebrity interviewing, he's a seasoned White Knight who knows what he's doing.

As I read the article, I was reminded anew that even White Knights must beware of dragons.  And when battling the Dragon of Authorial Intrusion even the best of wordslingers can get singed.

The article reads less like an interview for a slick, glossy, well-paying magazine and more like a blog post.  Though he's supposed to be writing about cover-boy Efron, the author refers to himself 4 times in the opening paragraph.  A few column-inches later, he actually uses the term "retard-o" as a pejorative adjective.

In the opening salvo, it's as if the Writing Knight gets enveloped in the steam of some hot air.

The valiant writer re-enters the fray, but it shortly becomes obvious that this dragon will prevail.  How else can one explain this description of Zac contracting poison oak?:
Maybe he also saw, down there on the rocks, the desiccated dreams of all the "real deal" actors who never panned out. All he needed to do was clear one little poison-oak bush directly below. No problem. He leaped. And the second before he hit the freezing water, he felt an ever-so-slight whoosh tickling his back and hands as the bush branches transferred enough of the dread urushiol oil to eventually spread over every part of his body—even his much-squealed-over teen-idol dick.
Score one for the dragon.  With "desiccated dreams" and "much-squealed-over" body parts, the writer's interest in his subject is completely overshadowed by his wink-wink, nudge-nudge interest in himself.

The battle continues, but it ain't pretty.

The writer squanders every opportunity to use his words to showcase his talent at interviewing.  But he never passes up a chance to impose his personal views.  It's as if he begrudges Zac for being his assignment and takes pains to illustrate his beliefs that he would make a far more interesting interview.  (Perhaps he would. That's not the point.)

Nothing shouts "Authorial Intrusion" louder than a writer proffering an opinion about something with which the writer can not have any personal experience.

It's like single people offering marital advice.  Or a childless person waxing eloquent on child-rearing.  Or a dog offering tips on choosing kitty litter.

In any case, the very next paragraph contains this gem:
Whether you're the type who watches "High School Musical" and starts feeling so tingly that you think you've finally gotten your period...
... and it becomes clear that this particular Writing Knight will not slay his dragon at any time in the immediate future.

Yuck.  Just -- yuck.

I'm trying to imagine an incidence when it would be appropriate for a man of a certain age to opine about how an adolescent girl would feel when getting her period.  (Though anyone who thinks the adjective "tingly" applies should be marinated in the aforementioned urushiol oil. But I digress...)  I'm sure an incidence must exist.  I'm equally sure it's not when writing a feature article that ostensibly focuses on a star.

When writing, the devil is in the details.  If you're writing about you, then, by all means, state your opinion often and with great vigor.  If, however, you are not the featured subject, then prepare to engage the Dragon of Authorial Intrusion.  Be willing to fight him for every word.

The battle is yours if the reader falls in love with your subject instead of falling over your prose.

Not everyone can write.  That's why we need the Writing Knights. And it's why we mourn when they fall prey to their own dragons.


Sarah Enni said...





This post is amazing, and I am extraordinarily glad that you wrote it. Journalism fail.

Yuck, indeed.

Ami Hendrickson said...


Journalism fail. Feature fail. Just -- fail. Thanks for your kind words on my little post. As I read the article in question, I was reminded anew of the huge leap of faith in a writer any person takes when consenting to be interviewed. Too often, I fear, writers forget that.

RedHeadedQuilter said...

Oh my god. "Tingly"? How about, throwing up, passing out on the floor agony? Clearly this guy has never met a woman, or even spoken to one.

As for the rest, what Sarah said. Wow. *LOL*!

BTW, does anyone else think Zac's incredible body does not seem to belong to that sweet face? It's causing a disconnect in my brain! Above the neck he looks like a little boy. Below the neck he makes me all tingly!

Probably TMI, I know. Oh well.

Morgan Ives said...

Ugh. No wonder you were annoyed. It sounds to me like so many sour grapes. He doesn't like Zak Efron, so he uses crass comparison to try to belittle and degrade him.

Also, I agree with Kelly. Tingly? Come on. Does this guy realized how many of his readers he's alienated with that description alone? *facepalm*

Ami Hendrickson said...

Kelly & Morgan,

I think I wish an adolescent girl's complete menstrual cycle upon the writer, so in the future he can write from experience. :) Not that it would belong in an article about another unsuspecting celebrity. But still -- as my mother always says, "no education is ever wasted."

Cor said...

I loved this post. I don't usually indulge in reading any form of magazine depicting famous people. Just simply because it's slanted. After I read this post I am most interested in reading said article above. Great post Amy!

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