Literary stream of consciousness is a device used to render a character's mental process into text.\r\n\r\nOriginally coined by William James in 1890 as a principle of psychology, yet easily transferable to the literary domain, the mode often reads as incoherent and fragmented.\r\n\r\nThis is because, more often than not, thoughts and emotions flow illogically\u00a0in our minds.\r\nConsciousness ... does not appear to itself chopped up in bits. ...It is nothing jointed; it flows. A 'river' or 'stream' are the metaphors by which it is most naturally described." \u2013 William James\r\nConsciousness is much more complex and fluid than we could ever imagine. Image credit: Jeff Sheldon via Unsplash\r\n\r\nInterestingly, an article in the New York Times challenged James' theory, arguing that we don't sample the world in a continuous stream of thought but in 'rhythmic pulses' or chunks.\r\n\r\nNevertheless, stream of consciousness remains an important literary device. Where else, how else, can you get direct access to the thoughts of characters, the inner workings of the human mind?\r\nThoughts are important in written fiction because it is the only place you can find them." \u2013 Harvey Chapman\r\nDesigned to reveal a character's personality through the unique presentation of their thinking process, stream of consciousness encompasses two main techniques: Direct Interior Monologue and Indirect Interior Monologue.\r\n\r\nInterior dialogue is an indispensable means of providing insights into your character's personality. Image credit: Anna Sastre via Unsplash\r\nDirect Interior Monologue\r\nDirect interior monologue (also known as quoted interior monologue) is employed within a first-person viewpoint. As the name suggests, it attempts to directly imitate a character's mental flow.\r\n\r\nThe following is an excerpt from Stephen Dedalus' lengthy direct interior monologue in Ulysses. James Joyce shows us the way his character is thinking by\u00a0using\u00a0short, disjointed phrases.\r\nTurning, he scanned the shore south, his feet sinking again slowly in new sockets. The cold domed room of the tower waits. Through the barbicans the shafts of light are moving ever, slowly ever as my feet are sinking, creeping duskward over the dial floor. Blue dusk, nightfall, deep blue night. In the darkness of the dome they wait, their pushedback chairs, my obelisk valise, around a board of abandoned platters. Who to clear it? He has the key. I will not sleep there when this night comes.\u201d\u00a0\u2013 James Joyce, Ulysses\r\nIn the thriller novel\u00a0Dark Places, Gillian Flynn inserts a short passage of direct interior monologue into a conversation between protagonist Libby Day and her banker, Jim Jeffreys.\r\n\r\nThe monologue shows readers what is happening inside Libby's head, highlighting\u00a0her state of mind and disinterest in the conversation. This disinterest would not be so apparent without the monologue's inclusion.\r\n\u201cWhat about we try to set you up in some sort of office job, filing and whatnot?\u201d\r\n\u201cNo.\u201d I folded in on myself, ignoring the meal, projecting glumness. That was another of my mom\u2019s words: glum. It meant having the blues in a way that annoyed other people. Having the blues aggressively.\r\n\u201cWell, why don\u2019t you take a week and do some thinking on it?"\u00a0\u2013 Gillian Flynn, Dark Places\r\nPoignant insights into your story's characters requires a mastering of both direct and indirect interior dialogue. Image credit: Olu Eletu via Unsplash\r\nIndirect Interior Monologue\r\nIndirect interior monologue (also known as narrative monologue) is a commentary of the character's thoughts by a third-person narrator.\r\n\r\nVirginia Woolf, whose use of stream of consciousness is particularly refined and effective, demonstrates indirect interior monologue in the classic\u00a0Mrs Dalloway.\r\n\r\nAn omniscient third-person narrator delivers the tale, but taps into the consciousness of multiple characters throughout the course of the narrative.\r\n\r\nThe opening paragraphs of\u00a0Mrs Dalloway\u00a0immediately establish its stream of consciousness style:\r\n...And then, thought Clarissa Dalloway, what a morning\u00a0\u2013 fresh as if issued to children on a beach.\r\n\r\nWhat a lark! What a plunge! For so it had always seemed to her when, with a little squeak of the hinges, which she could hear now, she had burst open the French windows and plunged at Bourton into the open air. How fresh, how calm, stiller than this of course, the air was in the early morning; like the flap of a wave; the kiss of a wave; chill and sharp and yet (for a girl of eighteen as she then was) solemn, feeling as she did, standing there at the open window, that something awful was about to happen..."\u00a0\u2013 Virginia Woolf, Mrs Dalloway\r\nNote that, through use of a 'thought' tag, it is first made clear\u00a0that Clarissa Dalloway is the character whose consciousness we are soon to enter.\r\n\r\nGreat stories reveal the depths of the human heart. Image credit: Gabriele Forcina via Unsplash\r\nHow to indicate characters' thoughts\r\nThere are a number of different ways to show that a certain passage is actually the thoughts of a character.\r\n\r\nDon't use quote marks, as this will require an adjustment from the reader \u2013\u00a0oh, this person was thinking, not talking. Choose between a mixture of italics, thought tags, or nothing at all.\r\n\r\nAs you try various methods, you'll discover\u00a0which one works for you. And whatever mode you decide, make sure it is consistent throughout your text. Jumping back and forth between two or even three different modes\u00a0can\u00a0make your reader uncomfortable.\r\nItalics\r\nUsing italics to show thoughts is a popular technique but one that should be used carefully,\u00a0in short bursts, particularly\u00a0when your thoughts differ to the surrounding\u00a0text in tense or point of view (learn about that literary technique here).\r\n\r\nAvoid long passages of italicised text; it can be difficult to read and you will lose the emphasis that italics creates.\r\n\r\nUse this emphasis to your advantage and get those thoughts leaping off the page, especially if you are relying on your interior monologue to capture your reader's attention.\r\n\r\nTranslating thoughts into your story remains a challenge for every writer. Image credit: Alexander Solodukhin\r\nThought tags\r\nJust like indicating dialogue with tags, you can use them\u00a0to show thinking. This can be both direct and indirect.\r\n\r\nIn\u00a0Lockie Leonard, Human Torpedo, Tim Winton inserts a thought tag when Lockie's thoughts are presented in a different viewpoint.\r\nLockie froze. He hadn't said anything of the sort \u2013 not a flamin' whisper... You bitch, he thought. I couldn't ski for all the poo at Bondi."\u00a0\u2013 Tim Winton, Lockie Leonard, Human Torpedo\r\nThoughts can also be described indirectly by the narrator. In\u00a0Rebecca\u00a0by Daphne du Maurier, the author writes\u00a0'I thought' and 'I wondered' to show readers the mind\u00a0of Mrs de Winter.\r\nI thought of that green sea, foam-flecked, that ran down the channel beyond the headland. Did the wind come suddenly, I wondered, in a funnel from the beacon on the hill, and did the little boat heel to it, shivering, the white sail flat against a breaking sea?\u00a0\u2013 Daphne du Maurier, Rebecca\r\nIn John Green's\u00a0Looking for Alaska, direct thoughts are consistently\u00a0italicised and tagged. (Note that in the following example, italicised\u00a0sections\u00a0are shown in\u00a0bold due to formatting constraints.)\r\nHe stood five feet and nothing, but was well-built, like a scale model of Adonis, and with him arrived the stink of stale cigarette smoke.\u00a0Great,\u00a0I thought.\u00a0I'm meeting my roommate naked."\u00a0\u2013 John Green, Looking for Alaska\r\nNo indication\r\nThis is the most difficult technique to master, as there is no obvious signal to the reader that a character has started to think. But if you can make it\u00a0clear without italics or a tag, don't worry about them.\r\n\r\nHere, using another example from Ulysses, we learn from the\u00a0narrator that Stephen is walking before a smooth transition is made into his mind, presenting more interior monologue\u00a0to the reader.\r\nIf you can put your five fingers through it, it is a gate; if not, a door. Shut your eyes and see.\r\n\r\nStephen closed his eyes to hear his boots crush crackling wrack and shells. You are walking through it howsomever. I am, a stride at a time. A very short space of time through very short times of space.\u201d\u00a0\u2013 James Joyce, Ulysses\r\nFor a more detailed discussion\u00a0of the mechanics of interior monologue, check out the\u00a0Complete Guide to Interior Monologue.\r\n\r\nTo write in stream of consciousness is to dive into the mind. Image credit: Sean Brown via Unsplash\r\nHow to write stream of consciousness\r\nStream of consciousness is a tough\u00a0literary device to master, so we've compiled the following helpful tips to get you started.\r\n1.\u00a0Think about your thinking\r\nWhen life gets busy, we often tell our friends, \u2018I\u2019ve got a lot on my mind.\u2019 But have you ever considered how your mind processes all those thoughts?\r\n\r\nThey seem to flash from one part of the brain to another, many stored in short-term memory for bare seconds before racing off in another direction. Perfect. Your own mind is a treasure trove of inspiration.\r\n\r\nUse your own thoughts to practice writing stream of consciousness. Pretend that you are the protagonist. Think about how you're thinking and get those thoughts down in writing. Remember, proper punctuation and syntax no longer apply.\r\n\r\nWith practice, you\u2019ll see how scattered thoughts can be rendered onto paper or screen. Your stream of consciousness will seem more realistic because it has come from your head, not the head of a fictional character.\r\n\r\nStruggling to write in stream of consciousness? These 3 tips will help get you started. Image credit: Joshua Earle via Unsplash\r\n2. Alter the pace with interior monologue\r\nStream of consciousness is an effective tool for controlling the pacing of your story.\r\n\r\nLike climbing a mountain and descending into a valley, your story will ebb and flow with moments of action counterbalanced by scenes of reflection.\r\n\r\nWhen you want to increase the pace, short, punchy interior monologue is best and works well interconnected with effective dialogue.\r\n\r\nThe following passage, taken from the climax of J. K. Rowling's\u00a0Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, intersperses action, dialogue and Harry's own thoughts:\r\nAnd when the creature spoke, it used Harry's mouth, so that in his agony, he felt his jaw move...\r\n\r\n'Kill me now, Dumbledore...'\r\n\r\nBlinded and dying, every part of him screaming for release, Harry felt the creature use him again...\r\n\r\n'If death is nothing, Dumbledore, kill the boy...'\r\n\r\nLet the pain stop, thought Harry... Let him kill us... End it, Dumbledore... Death is nothing compared to this...\r\n\r\nAnd I'll see Sirius again...\r\n\r\nAnd as Harry's heart filled with emotion, the creature's coils loosened, the pain was gone."\u00a0\u2013 J. K. Rowling,\u00a0Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix\r\nIt's\u00a0best to save longer passages of interior monologue for moments when your character is alone. After a thrilling fast-paced scene, your characters and your readers need time to slow down.\r\n\r\nIf your character isn't alone but you still want them to do some serious thinking, make sure they don't talk with the other characters while they're streaming consciousness.\r\n\r\nIf they think for too long they'll forget what the other character said, and so will the reader.\r\n\r\nIt will also become boring if\u00a0your characters spend too much time mulling over things.\u00a0You've got to find a balance between action and reflection.\r\n\r\nGreat writers must also be great readers. Image credit: Lou Levit via Unsplash\r\n3.\u00a0Read widely\r\nAs with any other device, improving your own skill in writing stream of consciousness passages requires wide reading. Look at lots of different examples and practise by trying to emulate an author's style.\r\n\r\nVirginia Woolf and James Joyce are well-known for showcasing pure literary stream of consciousness, but be aware that the style of the classics is unlikely to be as popular in modern literature.\r\n\r\nWe recommend mixing\u00a0your own voice and style with direct and indirect interior monologue.\r\n\r\nSince book characters are always going to think at some point in every story, you can find stream of consciousness at its most basic level in every text. However, some classic\u00a0novels in which\u00a0stream of consciousness is used to particularly great effect include:\r\n\r\n \tUlysses by James Joyce\r\n \tMrs Dalloway and To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf\r\n \tThe Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner\r\n \tMalone Dies and The Unnamable by Samuel Beckett\r\n \tThe Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath\r\n \tTrainspotting by Irvine Welsh\r\n \tHow Stella Got Her Groove Back by Terry McMillan\r\n\r\nYou may also like to check out this list of the 10\u00a0writers who employ stream of consciousness better than anybody else.\r\n\r\nLike all creative techniques, it takes time to learn, practice and master. It's time to keep on writing. Image credit: Padurariu Alexandru\r\n\r\nStream of consciousness-style writing may not be for everyone, but mastering the technique is a great way to practice\u00a0your craft\u00a0and add another literary tool to your arsenal.\r\n\r\nFor more insight into literary devices, check out our posts on alternate point of view, theme and the three-act structure.