This week: Streaming ContentEdited by: Jayne
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Hey there! I'm the guest editor for this week's drama newsletter. You can catch my regular writings in Mystery and Contests & Activities.
Stream of Consciousness (SOC) is a narrative style that captures a character's thoughts as realistically as possible. It's not exactly an internal monologue, as internal monologue would present itself in full sentences. SOC doesn't do that, opting instead for providing those same thoughts as the thinker would actually experience them. Even when we talk to ourselves aloud, we often don't use full sentences. When the chitchat is part of our internal conversation, the propensity for full sentences is even lower.
Providing the SOC to the reader is more complex than stringing disjointed thoughts together. After all, your reader still needs to be able to decipher some kind of meaning from the words on the page. I concede in some limited instances this may not be true, but for the sake of understanding the technique, yes, the reader should still be immersed in the story and understand what's going on to some extent. That being said, SOC isn't for everyone. Even if you execute it flawlessly, some readers absolutely hate it. They find it jarring and difficult to follow. Execute it poorly and they'll hate it even more.
Unlike the linear process of an internal dialogue, SOC communicates the same thoughts in an associative, non-linear way. While we are used to the structure of internal dialogue, where one thought logically follows the next, and is neatly organized and punctuated, SOC brings in the messy chaos of the ideas floating in and out of our brains while we do other things. The grammar and punctuation can be messy or nonexistent. Words may be out of order, and thoughts may jump forward and backward in time. Sentences may be excessively long due to the interjecting thoughts weaving through the main thread. In short, the SOC can look like a hot mess, but when done properly, it feels true, accurate, and most importantly, real.
The reason this happens is because the associations of SOC are linked in the character's mind. Those intruding thoughts that are included in the text have a reason to be there. The connections aren't necessarily concrete in nature—that would bring you closer to internal dialogue—but can be more loosely defined networks of emotions, sensations, fragments of memories, and fragments of other thoughts. Additionally, using repetition can give a lot of insight into a character's state of mind, worldview, and opinions.
William Faulkner, Virginia Woolf, TS Eliot, and James Joyce are all known for their work with SOC. Don't write it off as something stuck to one time period. Sylvia Plath, George Saunders, Jose Saramago, and Toni Morrison have used it much more recently. Even if it isn't something you'd consider publishing, it's well worth immersing yourself in the exercise of writing SOC to glean insight into how your character's mind works. You might even discover some interesting character quirks, flaws, or backstory along the way.
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Some WdC member thoughts on my April issue "Drama Newsletter (April 14, 2021)"
While I've started accepting the fact that language has evolved to include non-traditional definitions of words, I always instinctively bristle at their misuse (especially using "literally" in a non-literal sense, and using phrases like "begs the question" incorrectly). Then again, I'm sure there are plenty of phrases and words I misuse that drive other people crazy too, so I try not to be too much of a stickler about it.
How do you feel about stream of consciousness?
My head is literally spinning from all of the irony.
That's how I felt trying to get a handle on SOC
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