What is Stream of Consciousness Writing?

Learn more about the stream of consciousness in literature.

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This article will answer what is stream of consciousness writing, what are the characteristics of the novel written with this technique, and how to use stream of consciousness in your own writing.

What is Stream of Consciousness?

In literary theory, the stream of consciousness is a narrative technique that refers to depicting an associative mosaic of thoughts, feelings, and impressions of characters in a literary text. The term itself was coined by philosopher and psychologist William James in his 1890 work – The Principles of Psychology.

However, it was first used in a literary context by May Sinclair in 1918., when she was discussing Dorothy Richardson’s novel Pointed Roofs.

The Function of Stream of Consciousness

The goal is to express more naturally, in words, the flow of the character’s thoughts and feelings that passes through their minds. It is used to make the reader truly experience those thoughts as the character is thinking them. This technique does not just relay thoughts to the reader for informational purposes, but in a way, creates an experience of thinking.

Characteristics of the Novel of Stream of Consciousness

Plot

In the stream of consciousness novel, there is no plot. Or, at least no plot in the classical sense. The action has moved from the outside world to the human consciousness. Events that are commonplace and average, in human consciousness trigger associations opening up endless spaces and building unimagined worlds. The focus is on the inner, psychic processes of the character. The novel is more a collection of data, facts, and elements of the mental state than a record of external events.

Narrator

The stream of consciousness novel is written in the first person singular. The narrator excludes himself from the text as much as possible, because this is the only way to keep the illusion of consciousness in motion before the eyes of the reader.

The narrator is completely immersed in several unrelated impressions that flow inside the characters. He does not narrate anything to the reader, he does not interpret. Everything that was once interpreted by the writer, whether as an omniscient narrator or through some of the characters, is now shown directly.

Most of the story is presented as if it passes through the consciousness of one narrator. The narrator renounces the role of historian, interpreter, or teacher, and tries to confront the reader directly with the picture of life processes: emotions, impressions, thoughts, memories, and desires, before the process of rationalization.

Inner monologue

Sometimes the stream of consciousness is mistakenly equated with an inner monologue or considered a special kind of inner monologue. Internal monologue is logical, often linear and thoughts coherently move from one to the next.

In contrast, stream of consciousness writing is often non-linear. It is characterized by nontraditional grammar and syntax. It also represents the more natural flow of thought.

Characters

Characters do not participate in actions, they do not change as a result of the action. Sometimes they do not even exchange ideas or influence each other. The reader is directly confronted with their inner world full of impressions, associations, thoughts. Sometimes to such an extent that it can be hard to understand.

Language and Time

The novel of the stream of consciousness necessarily developed its own language, because the traditional, strictly systematized language could not express the full breadth of internal movements. Sometimes impressions and thoughts are recorded regardless of grammar and spelling rules!

The inner rhythm of human thoughts resists linguistic expression and exists independently of the spoken word, and therefore cannot be represented by conventional linguistic molds. This sometimes leads to difficult readability, creating an airtight and personal language that neglects general communicativeness and accepted norms of expression.

It is important to note that time is an extremely important category in streams of consciousness novels. It is completely subjective. For example, the events of James Joyce’s Ulysses, presented on more than 900 pages, happen within 24 hours.

How To Use Stream Of Consciousness In Your Writing?

Stream of consciousness writing as a literary technique can be especially helpful for writer’s block. How exactly? Because it is also a brainstorming technique that has a goal to help encourage creativity and intuitive writing.
It is excellent for writing about consciousness (or as different consciousnesses). It lets the writer explore and write a more genuine experience – the experience that is more reflective of what is happening inside the writer’s mind.

Writing Tips

Reading a novel written with this technique is a unique experience. However, when you try to write such a novel, you quickly find it challenging. Before you start writing, it is useful to know a few good tips.

Here are some to take into consideration:

#1. Choosing a character. Who will be the main protagonist? Use your own emotional state to conjure up your character’s inner emotional turmoil.

#2. Toss the proper grammar out of the window. Focus on writing down your thoughts, nothing else. Do not stop or hesitate. Write without objectively thinking about what to put on the page.

#3. Write in first person. Keep your point of view from the mind of your character. Every word you write needs to be in the first person. What character thinks, sees, experiences? What do characters think about their thoughts and experiences?

#4. Read your favorite stream of consciousness authors. Study them and try to form your writing.

#5. Write without stopping. Stream of consciousness writers often write without stopping. Try to have a writing session in which you will let yourself document everything that comes to mind. The goal here is to get into the flow of your natural thoughts. Free of all ideas about those thoughts.

#6. Read what you have written. Read your work out loud. Keep asking yourself – if it sounds like someone is having an internal dialogue. If the answer is yes – congrats! You have created a stream of consciousness piece!

Examples of the Stream of Consciousness in Literature

Several significant novels that use the stream of consciousness:

James Joyce – Ulysses
William Faulkner – The Sound and the Fury and As I Lay Dying
Ernest Hemingway – A Farewell to Arms
Virginia Woolf – Mrs. Dalloway
Jack Kerouac – On the Road
José Saramago – Blindness
Fyodor Dostoevsky – Notes from Underground
Samuel Beckett – Three Novels (Molloy, Malone Dies, and The Unnamable).