Coherence vs incoherence – Differences in Style #4

So I will admit, I wanted to skip last week’s discussion on viewpoints and go straight to this. Because even though it makes sense to cover viewpoints before going deeper into modes of narration (although ooh err you’ll probably notice I’m not covering every mode eg time, place etc 😉 ) this is by far a more interesting topic to me. Now I’m gonna be honest straight off the bat, I have a passionate dislike for stream of consciousness books, but I can’t deny that it’s an interesting phenomenon, which is why I’m excited to discuss it!

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Stream of consciousness defined

There are lots of ways to tell a story and the how can be one of the most interesting ways to enhance the voice (including unreliable narration). Stream of consciousness is a technique developed in the 20th century to show the flow of thoughts going on in a character’s mind. The term was coined by William James and is also known as “interior monologue”. It’s kinda the opposite of a dramatic monologue/soliloquy where the speaker addresses an audience (think Shakespeare). Ways you can identify stream of consciousness are by leaps in thought or lack of punctuation. Some of the most famous examples are Woolf, Joyce, Faulkner and Garcia Marquez.

 

 

Stream of consciousness philosophy

The aim of stream of consciousness is largely to show the flow of thoughts and feelings, reflecting the actual impression of being inside someone’s mind. Unlike where an author simply tells the reader what a character is thinking, stream of consciousness reflects the inner workings of a character’s thoughts in a way that authentically represents the fragmentary reality of thinking eg by jumping from one event to another and not necessarily following on in a logical manner.

Pros and Cons of Stream of Consciousness

Pros: Well, this certainly creates interesting and realistic psychological portraits of a character. And if you can get into it, it’s an intense experience. Especially as it can be used to really demonstrate individuality by making subtle changes from one character to another and showing the idiosyncrasies of one person’s thoughts close up.

Cons: However, it’s easy to get lost in a stream of consciousness narrative and, in my experience, is very hard to follow. As most people’s minds are a complete mess, you can imagine that being in someone’s head for an extended period of time can be quite the headache. It can also lack coherence and affect the structure, which, yeesh, like I said, not a fan.

Exposition defined

Now as per usual, I like to set these pieces up in a dichotomous relationship, showing two opposing styles. I did have to give this one some thought, as I didn’t want to muddy the waters too much. But since I decided to talk about coherence and incoherence in this piece, I thought I might go with another mode of storytelling: exposition (the other four being: dialogue, thoughts, action and description). Edit: the basic definition is that it’s the author giving information to the reader (and can include authorial intrusion, info-dumping or just be integrated into the text).

Exposition philosophy

As a form of contrast, exposition above all offers clarity. And while there isn’t a philosophy per se, exposition has been used since the dawn of time, or literature, to present information. I personally notice it in more Victorian novels and in ancient epics, where the reader is simply given information. Sometimes this can also be used as a flashback or flash-forward.

Exposition Pros and Cons

Pros: not only does this offer clarity, but it can also be a powerful and directive voice in a narrative. It can be used to show a great deal of control or to foreshadow later events.

Cons: oh boy, I don’t want to get into the show vs tell debate too much at this stage, but that’s certainly a factor to consider (not to spoil potential future posts too much, but I think there’s a time for both 😉 ) And one of the main issues here is that it stops readers from drawing their own conclusions.

Accounting for different tastes

What’s important to note is that neither of these techniques have to be employed for a whole book. It’s possible, for instance, to include some stream of consciousness without going the whole nine yards. And while I begrudgingly admit there’s a plus side to stream of consciousness novels, no matter how much I personally dislike them, I am happy to say that I like both of these styles in moderation. But if you’d like a whole book of either technique (though exposition tends to be paired with other styles) then whatever floats your boat is fine!

Other posts in this series:

Pared down vs Purple prose – Differences in Style #1

The art of Intertextuality vs Innovation – Differences in Style #2

*ALL the Viewpoints – Differences in Style #3

So do you like/dislike either of these styles? Or do you have a preference? Let me know in the comments!

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The Bad Bits in Brilliant Books

So, I’ll just put it out there, I *love* classics! They’re practically my favourite thing in the whole world!! But for some reason- amazing authors like to punish us with the occasional dose of boredom! I mean, I’m currently reading War and Peace and a friend of mine has just told me to watch out for the boring bit (I guess I will have to wait and see about that- and you’ll have to wait for my review!). Why do they do that and what are they playing at? It’s literally like they almost want us to give up on their work in favour of something less impressive or well-written. Don’t believe me? Well, here are some examples:

anna karenina1- Anna Karenina– brilliant, brilliant book- but why does it have to begin and end with a discussion of agriculture? I don’t know why this book had to continue for another 100 pages after it was clear the story was over!

Invisible

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middlemarch2- Middlemarch– another one with a lot of descriptions of the countryside. I mean that does make sense, since a huge part is dedicated to provincial life. So not only do you get the treat of these terribly dull passages- there are also lots and lots of irrelevant farmer characters to add to the boredom. No wonder I didn’t relate much to a lot of this book (but hey- if you’re a farmer, you’ll probably love it)

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les mis3- Les Miserables– so much of this book is phenomenal- however, every other part seems to be another awfully dull description. I figure this was Hugo’s thought process: forget Jean Valjean, let’s talk about a random priest for a hundred pages… I’m a bit bored of the plot- let’s talk about the history of the Napoleonic Wars… You know what would be good right now- an intricate discussion of Parisian sewers (yes, that’s actually a whole part)

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count of monte cristo4- Count of Monte Cristo– this is one of the most exciting books on the planet- but let’s face it, the history of telecoms bit is mind-numbingly boring. Fortunately this is the only hiccup in an otherwise stellar book.

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Invisible

5- And finally… anything with stream of consciousness. Okay if you’ve read my last post then you’ll know I’m not a fan and so this can’t come as a big surprise. I have never liked books written in this style- it doesn’t matter how well-written it is or how well-loved the book is- I really just can’t stomach it. I can’t read Virginia Woolf, or James Joyce- and now it looks like I’m adding Gabriel Garcia Marquez to the list of authors I won’t touch with a barge pole. And you know why? Because they have so many boring bits!

So yeah- writing this post has only left me with more questions! Because, really, I am stumped by this one. Don’t get me wrong- I love good writing and a dense classic will usually make me shout “bring it on!” I just don’t understand why so many fantastic writers have to make me feel like I’m being punished for trying to read their work.

What are your thoughts on this? Is it just me? Or have you noticed this trend too? Why do so many of these brilliant works of literature have to have bad bits? Let me know what you think in the comments!!