The Relation between Narrative Coherence and the Implied Author

Seminar Paper, 2010

12 Pages, Grade: 1,3



1 Introduction

2 The Implied Author

3 Defining Coherence

4 Coherence and Implied Author
4.1 Murder at the Beau Rivage
4.2 Elementary

5 Outlook: Role of the Reader in constructing the Implied Author

6 Conclusion

7 Works Cited

1 Introduction

For a long time the only accepted form of writing, working completely alone without help is not the only option for writers anymore. New forms have emerged, actively seeking the collaboration of authors in order to create texts that make use of the new possibilities collaboration grants. Though it has not yet achieved the same level of normality as single-author writing, collaborative writing nonetheless has a wide range of readers. As in all forms of writing, readers always try to find an entity that accounts for the text and guides their interpretation. A concept that tries to help in that process is the implied author. While its usefulness is debateable in one-authored writing, this concept is more interesting in collaborative written works as the number of real authors not necessarily corresponds to an equal number of implied authors. This paper is going to prove that coherence is one of the key determinants for creating the implied author. To reach that goal, two texts, both belonging to the genre of crime fiction, will be compared: first, Elementary, a short story dealing with two writers that fail to kill their agent; second, Murder at the Beau Rivage, a poststructuralist story about a serial murder who actually is a serial murderess. However, as the “implied author” and “coherence” are the basis for this analysis, it is, first of all, crucial to come up with uniform definitions and concepts behind the terms since they are not being used consistently in literary studies. Having established the terms, Murder at the Beaus Rivage will serve as an example of how incoherence can cause different implied authors for a text. Then, in order to prove that collaboratively written texts are not bound to have several implied authors, Elementary will be examined in terms of coherence. Finally, as the reader also plays a role in constructing the implied author, a short outlook will be given on the aspects that may be of interest for further research in that field.

2 The Implied Author

Introduced by Wayne Booth in his ground-breaking work The Rhetoric of Fiction, the concept of the implied author tries to account for the intention of a narrative and how it is constructed, that is, a sensibility on which readers can base their interpretations (Abbott 84). When ignoring the concept of the implied author, there are two basic options for that sensibility: the narrator and the real author (Abbott).[1] The narrator is not the best choice for that sensibility as the narrator is not necessarily always reliable. A prominent example is Kazuo Ishiguro’s TheRemains of the Day; the narrative derives much of its appeal from the fact that the narrator Mr. Stevens constantly claims to be totally objective and reliable, while the readers find out the contrary the more theylearn about him throughout the story. In this case, and many others, the narrator cannot be taken to account for the intention of a text. However, the real author is not necessarily more reliable than the narrator. As a human being, he has a complex life that is continually changing: the author’s views and thoughts when the text is being read might be totally different from his views and thoughts when the text was written. In fact, authors might even refute their own works after a period of time because of their changed views. In consequence, since neither narrator nor real author are always a reliable guide for the interpretation of a text, the concept of the implied author attempts to fill that gap.

An implied author is that sensibility (that combination of feeling, intelligence, knowledge, opinion) that “accounts for” the narrative. It accounts for a narrative in the sense that the implied author authorial views that we find emerging in the narrative are consistent with all the elements of the narrative discourse that we are aware of (Abbott 84, emphasis in original).

Yet, for several reasons,the implied author is one of the most contested concepts in literary theory.[2] First, Booth introduced the concept more or less en passent without clearly defining his own terms and without using them consistently. In addition to not providing a clear basis for discussion,this vagueness led to some confusion in terms of how the concept is applicable and what the additional value would be.[3] Second, the concept itself is still in question. Some just deny it completely, while others, like Genette, think the concept possible, but unnecessary. In his work Narrative Discourse Revisited, he argues that though the reader constructs an image of the author while reading, that image “has no features that are distinct (from those of its model) and thus deserves no special mention” (141).There is, amongst others, an exception he allows: collaboratively written works that still appear as if written by one single author (such as Elementary) (Genette 141). While it is, to say the least, debatable whether creating another instance between narrator and real author is useful when there is only one author, the concept is much more interesting for texts that have been written by several authors. The reason for that is that the implied author is inferred from, and only from, the text itself; as Seymour Chatman puts it, “unlike the narrator, the implied author can tell us nothing (148, emphasis in original). Normally, a work written by one author will have one implied author. The question now arises about the relation between real authors and implied author(s) in collaboratively written fiction: if there are several authors, will there be an equal number of implied authors and if not, what influences that relation? In order to answer the first question, it is useful to have a look into what actually determines the number of implied authors in collaboratively written fiction.


[1] Nelles suggests the term “historical author” and also renames the implied author with the somewhat more justifiable term “inferred author”. Yet, Booth’s terms are much more current, which is why they will be employed here.

[2] Booth introduced the term in 1961, which makes it quite young a concept and is probably not for a small part responsible for the ongoing debate

[3] Being aware of these problems, Booth tried to provide clearer definitions in the afterword to the second edition of his work The Rhetoric of Fiction.

Excerpt out of 12 pages


The Relation between Narrative Coherence and the Implied Author
University of Tubingen  (English Department)
Collaborative Writing
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ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
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implied author, authorship, collaboration, coherence
Quote paper
Gregor Schönfelder (Author), 2010, The Relation between Narrative Coherence and the Implied Author, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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