Stream of Consciousness
noun; A literary style or technique in which a character’s thoughts are presented in a continuous manner uninterrupted by other characters, dialogue, or omnipotent observations. Typically devoid of standard punctuation.
So they will have told you doubtless already how I told that Jones to take that mule which was not his around to the barn and harness it to our buggy while I put on my hat and shawl and locked the house. That was all I needed to do since they will have told you doubtless that I would have had no need for either trunk or bag since what clothing I possessed, now that the garments which I had been fortunate enough to inherit from my aunt’s kindness or haste or oversight were long since worn out, consisted of the ones which Ellen had remembered from time to time to give me and now Ellen these two years dead; that I had only to lock the house and take my place in the buggy and traverse those twelve miles which I had not done since Ellen died, beside that brute who until Ellen died was not even permitted to approach the house from the front… (Faulkner 107).
Pros vs. Cons
One very big pro of this style is to give insight to the inner psyche of your character. By giving them free reign of the narrative you convey how their inner mind works and allow the reader to draw connections between seemingly insignificant events and content to form a more developed picture. For instance, does your character’s overuse of the word “fabulous” reveal a superficiality about the things/events they find “fabulous”? Great way to subtly splice open your character and lay their bones and nerves on the table for the reader.
Major con to this style is that it’s straight up difficult. Difficult to craft and difficult to control. It’s easy to get carried down the stream without any real content. Just because your character has the ability to say or think anything, doesn’t mean they should be allowed to. Your job as a writer is to choose what’s most important. Cut the rest.
If you’re exploring this style, try free writing for a set amount of time (20-60 minutes will do it). Don’t censor yourself during this time–go with the flow. At the end of your set time, go back to the beginning and read. I recommend reading the whole piece through once (without editing), then answer these questions:
- What’s the overall theme and feel to the piece? Is your character reflecting on a tragic/happy event? Are they worried, angry, nervous, exuberant, in love, etc.?
- Next, what is the purpose of this section? What does it do for your story? Does it progress the action? Or provide necessary character insight?
With your questions answered, go back through a second time and start cutting anything that doesn’t fit the above answers. If your character is in love and reflecting on their current love triangle, it’s probably not the best time to mention how much they hate their neighbor for not sorting their recycling.
When in doubt as to whether or not something should stay, cut it. If you don’t immediately love it or feel like it fits, it has no place in your writing. Cut it. If you have a crush on it, save it for another piece. But if there’s no love it doesn’t belong. Better to have a succinct piece than something that causes your reader’s eyes to glaze over.
The best way to learn anything is to study those who have perfected the skill. If you’re looking for inspiration or guidance, pick up one of these for your next read:
- The Autumn of the Patriarch; Gabriel García Màrquez
- The Sound and the Fury; William Faulkner
- Wide Sargasso Sea; Jean Rhys
- Mrs. Dalloway; Virginia Woolf
- Ulysses; James Joyce
- On the Road; Jack Kerouac
Faulkner, William. Absalom, Absalom. New York: Vintage, 1990. Print.