S is for …


Stream of Consciousness

Well, I had to cover this at some point didn’t I?


I  understand the ‘Stream of Consciousness’ technique to be the written version of what is going on in a character’s mind.

The modernist writers were the pioneers of this technique. James Joyce takes the credit for inventing this new type of writing in his first novel,  A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man in 1916. and Virginia developed it in Jacob’s Room in 1922.

Have you ever thought about thoughts? They occur so randomly and often fleetingly in your mind, jumping about from one thing to another, that they are hard to pinpoint. Actually capturing them in the first place and then writing them down seems near impossible.

I find the whole idea of thought fascinating. Do we all think partly in words and partly in pictures? Do we have to understand language to be able to think in words?  I suppose we must; I couldn’t think in German for instance. Do we have to be able to see to think in pictures? Thoughts are incredibly difficult to stop as well, as my attempts to ‘think of nothing’ during yoga practice have testified.

Stream of consciousness is a narrative technique that describes in words what is going on in the minds of characters; and from this we learn much about them and their personality and history etc. The story can be told through the characters’ thoughts and feelings and not through a structured plot so this written equivalent of mind chatter is not necessarily logical. How many times have you been thinking about one thing and suddenly the thought has gone and you’re thinking about something else completely different?

Written down, on the page, this technique may lack punctuation and appear random and unstructured and be very difficult to read and understand. At first attempt it may appear as nonsense even. It is compelling though; we are inside a character’s mind seeing it at work.

When we come across this technique in fiction, the odds are that we find it difficult. I certainly do. But it is engrossing and challenging and awesomely clever.

Difficult but worth it.


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