Should a writer be invisible?

As an actor, [Philip Seymour] Hoffman says that his job is to be invisible. The idea is that when you are watching in Capote, you are to believe that you are watching Truman Capote himself. He believes that he has “done his job” as an actor when you forget that he is actor.

Well, I think that, as a writer of fiction, I want the reader to forget about me all together. As you are reading The Untelling, I want you to think that Aria is a real person. I have to wonder that knowing too much about the author can detract from that possibility.

Hmm. I don’t need to know anything about a writer; I enjoy reading plenty of writers whom I know little to nothing about. For example, I adore Pat Barker but know zip about her beyond the bio blurb that appears on her books. And that’s fine. At the same time, if a writer I like chooses to share more of his/herself, I’m interested. In particular, I’m interested in process (the same goes for artists, actors, etc.). If you’ve read a lot of a particular writer’s fiction, it can be really fun / interesting / instructive to read a memoir/autobiography and see where the ideas came from. Conversely, what’s happening now is that I’m finding writers I might otherwise never have heard of via their blogs—and subsequently adding their books to my “to read” list. I figure if I enjoy their blog-writing, then I’ll probably enjoy their novels.

I may be unique (though I somehow doubt it) but reading a writer’s personal writing doesn’t make his/her characters less real for me. I always view fiction as an alternate reality. It’s kind of like keeping up with friends/relatives that live away. They’re there and you’re here and sometimes you visit. Maybe it’s because I do write that I can separate writer and character and allow for them both to be real. I know my characters aren’t me. They have their own lives. They do and say things I’ve never done. Yet, it’s not like I’m telling them what to do and say. It’s more like I know. Not all at once, but as I write, the story unfolds, as if I were watching it. Which makes them feel real to me. So if my own characters—who I know are creations of my imagination—can on some level be real, then there’s no reason why someone else’s characters can’t also.

I think the concern here stems from the same root as the memoir craze: the general public’s apparent need for stories to be factual. Writers start to worry that if readers realize their stories are (gasp) made up, then they (the readers) won’t find them believable. What is that about? I do not know. Mayhap we need to start a movement to make fiction cool again. Fiction: not that there’s anything wrong with that.

Another thing I’ve said in the past: if a book is well written, you’ll forget that you’re reading. You’ll forget about the words on the page. You’ll forget that someone typed those words. You’ll forget who that person is. Not forever, but for the duration. If you are hyper-aware that you. are. reading. a. book… then the writing is crap. In other words: write well and nothing else (including what you do or don’t know about the writer) should matter. If it does, then it’s the reader who has a problem, not the writer.

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