The term was coined by Wayne Booth in his book “The Rhetoric of Fiction.”
Even though I only heard the phrase after undergrad, the concept isn’t difficult to understand.
- Every piece of fiction that we read–whether written in first or third person–gives us a certain impression or image of the person who wrote it.
- This impression is called “the implied author” and may coincide more or less loosely with the personality or views of the actual person who wrote the text.
- Ideally, the author is in control of this “implied author,” because he crafts the image/persona of the implied author by his textual choices: what he says, how he says it, and what he chooses to leave out. To some degree, then, the implied author is always a presentation or an act, and thus manipulative.
For instance, if someone wrote a gritty text set in New Orleans that involved a newly instated NOPD officer uncovering corruption in the force, trying to speak out and fight against it, but ultimately giving in and accepting the status quo, even supporting it, you could say that the implied author:
- has a rather pessimistic view of human nature
- has some personal connection with, or at least a seriously researched interest in, New Orleans and police work
- distrusts authority
- is politically active and informed about social concerns
Those things may be true or off the mark a bit. For instance, the author might be a faith-filled person who believes in humanity’s potential for good and in God’s saving grace. The author might intend this tale to be a cautionary one, because she believes we all are tempted and we all are sinful by nature, and therefore must be on guard about slipping into unhealthy spiritual situations/habits.
Why the implied author matters:
You could say the implied author matters because it’s the image you are giving readers of yourself through what you write.
The implied author also matters because it arises from the reader’s impression of you and your intentions. Thus, the implied author will heavily influence how readers interpret and respond to your work.
For instance: what makes a satire a satire? The fact that the implied author clearly is exaggerating to make a point, and probably believes the opposite of most of what he literally is saying.
A fabulous example here that you might remember from school is Jonathan Swift’s “A Modest Proposal.” It’s not fiction, though; it’s an essay in which Swift proposes a solution to Irish poverty: they can eat their babies.
Swift, of course, is not being serious. He is making a political statement about Britain and Ireland and their relations in the 18th century. Once you realize you are reading a satire, you can understand how the implied author is caustic, sarcastic, and angry. He is not, however, honestly proposing that anyone cannibalize infants.
Another presence of the implied author: if your narrator states the obvious time and again, your implied author will be insulting your readers by treating them like children. People will think you are arrogant and pedantic.
In my last post, I talked about three circumstances in which an author might want to imply that he or she shares a reader’s frustration, or knows that a reader is confused. That’s an example of the implied author at work: the implied author showing sympathy or asserting control over the text by assuring, “I know this is confusing.”
When that happens, the implication is, “Because I know this doesn’t make sense, I will clear things up eventually.” That gives the reader confidence that he or she is not wasting time plowing through a book that will only end with loose threads.
The implied author definitely isn’t something to get hung up about, but many of us do worry about it. It’s one of the main reasons we often hesitate to share our work, or feel embarrassed/nervous about letting people read our stories. I have DEFINITELY been there. If you struggle with that, you are not alone, for sure!!!
You may or may not have been familiar with the term “implied author” before reading this, but chances are, if you’ve been writing fiction for a while, you’ve given some thought to how your writing presents you to the world.
If you ever have concerns or doubts about the implied author your work is projecting, you can ask a beta reader or editor: preferably one that doesn’t know you well on a personal level.
So, what do you think about the implied author? Have you read a book that left you with a strong impression of the author? How do you hope to come across in your work?