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Thread: Stream of consciousness writing?

  1. #1
    practical experience, FTW Rose English's Avatar
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    Stream of consciousness writing?

    Does 'stream of consciousness' writing have a place in literary fiction?

    I only ask because that's how sections of some books appear to me; as though the writer was in 'a zone' and poured out all of their thoughts and ideas about an issue in a great gush. Reading these paragraphs feels to me like being in someone's head; intensely personal, enlightening, hard to follow, fresh, and often accompanied by a feeling of a truth spoken or a 'big' human condition being explored, revealed or resolved. To put it another way, reading this kind of writing usually gives me an 'aha' moment.

    I know straightaway when I read 'it', and I like 'it', but I'm having a hard time naming what exactly is going on. Stream of consciousness or does 'it' have another name?

    I'm not sure if this makes sense or is very clear but I'd welcome any thoughts or comments. I expect the process of trying to clarify will help me understand .

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    Exploring the infinite abyss Millicent M'Lady's Avatar
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    Are you referring to works such as Ulysses or To The Lighthouse?

    Or are you referring to when you read an inner monologue and something resounds with you?

    If it is the former, the literary device, I don't know- I'm in two minds about it. It has a place when it is done well but otherwise it can be just excruciatingly painful to read.

    Or have I totally misread your question?
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    ...Reading these paragraphs feels to me like being in someone's head; intensely personal, enlightening, hard to follow, fresh, and often accompanied by a feeling of a truth spoken or a 'big' human condition being explored, revealed or resolved. To put it another way, reading this kind of writing usually gives me an 'aha' moment.
    That sounds like SOC to me, and why I find it artistic, too I say artistic because I'm not educated enough in these things to know a ton about them, but art I feel like anyone can say they feel

    I love Marquez and his SOC. That's where I first encountered it that I loved it and 'got' it. I'd read Joyce and... meh [sorry!].

    I hope it has a place, but it's not everyone's cup of tea, and that's cool.
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    My heart's a battleground Mystic Blossom's Avatar
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    I'm actually reading To the Lighthouse in one class, and in another class we focused this week on stream of consciousness (I just got out of the class 20 minutes ago!). I don't usually care for it, but it all depends on how it's written. I tend to gravitate towards funnier forms of it, such as A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, rather than in works like Woolfe and Joyce. In fact, I was just wondering if there are any short fiction markets for stream of consciousness pieces.

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    practical experience, FTW Rose English's Avatar
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    Sorry not to respond sooner, I had dental work done yesterday and was away with the fairies for most of it. Better now.

    Hmm. Millicent M'lady; I've not read Ulysses or To The Lighthouse. Woolf does 'it' a lot, I think in A Room with a View. I might be referring to inner dialogue; if that is the same as thinking about thinking. I first encountered the 'stream of consciousness' idea in psychology rather than literature. To give an example of something recently read, which is what I'm trying to get at, is from Philip Roth's The Human Stain, p213,

    "...And when he's not with her it's there too-it's the secret that's his magnetism. It's something not there that beguiles, and it's what' s been drawing me all along, the enigmatic it that he holds apart as his and no one else's. He's set himself up like the moon to be only half visible. And I cannot make him fully visible. There is a blank. That's all I can say. They are, together, a pair of blanks..."

    Backslashbaby, I like 'it' too, whatever it is; SOC or otherwise. I find it beautiful in itself, and I enjoy thinking about the sentences this way and that, finding different angles to admire them from, gain meaning from.

    The reason why I'm trying to understand this is because I'm working in a perfunctory manner at a novel which I gave an outline, and a plot. It's all wrong. What I want to do is explore, through a character's thinking, and her relationships, a specific theme. And I thought it might read more like the kind of writing above. But how do I do 'it' well?

    I'm probably still not making much sense! No-one's fault but mine. Please feel free to add your thoughts, anything at all will be appreciated.

  6. #6
    A large portion of my "novel" is sorta SOC. At first I thought I was writing a memoir, but know I realize that I'm really narrating the thoughts in my head, not anything external. Now I'm calling my book LF. The first 3 chapters are up in the SYW/memoir board - it's called, 'You Get Used to It.' Maybe you could check it out and tell me if this is the "it" you're talking about.

    I'm glad I found this thread so I can check out the books mentioned, because I'm really confused these days.
    Thanks.

  7. #7
    practical experience, FTW Rose English's Avatar
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    thornhill, I read your work in SYW and posted comments about it there, hope that's okay for you.

    Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts everyone, this is what I was hoping would happen. As a result of all the comments people have made here, it's led me by an interesting route to re-read Chapter 7 of Janet Burroway's Writing Fiction. A perfect example of what I have been trying to describe is on page 267 (if you want to check it out), in the piece of a short story written by Lorrie Moore.

    Burroway comments:
    "...the form blurs traditional lines, as fiction appears to masquerade as third person memoir, or perhaps the reverse, and the point of view is extremely complex. An adequate understanding of it will require-more than a definition or a diagram- a series of yes but's and but also's."

    And this is what I want to write! *sighs*

  8. #8
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    Quote Originally Posted by Rose English View Post
    But how do I do 'it' well?
    Go and read Ulysses.

  9. #9
    Quote Originally Posted by Rose English View Post
    thornhill, I read your work in SYW and posted comments about it there, hope that's okay for you.
    Thanks for the nice comments over at SYW.

  10. #10
    This is me, smiling back at you :-) K Ackermann's Avatar
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    It sounds to me as you are talking about something deeper than SOC. Some SOC can make deep connections, and then it's fun, and, as you say, aha.

    Another type of SOC does not make connections, and this type is often absurd. The absurd can work, or fail miserably. I recently wrote something that included a passage about being stung by a cat. Cats don't sting, but it worked anyway.
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  11. #11
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    Stream of consciousness [in literary theory] is meant to be the dramatising of mental processes. I love Joyce and Woolfe.

    For earlier attempts at SOC read some Austen.

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    Grateful for the day cooeedownunder's Avatar
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    I second or third Ulyssesas an excellent example.
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    To be honest, stream of consciousness is too experimental.

    I wrote heavy SOC in my last novel. No agent is interested. In fact, they don't even bother to tell you "We don't like SOC." or ask you to change it.

    At present I am changing my SOC into normal narrative. Agents want sellable books, and SOC is hardly sellable.

    You'd better write SOC when you are famous. Bear in mind that it's your name that sells the SOC, not the SOC itself.



    EDIT:

    On another forum, someone said SOC is DEAD. It was used to see what normal, classical narrative cannot do. The experiment was successful. But it is a DEAD form, because, honestly, how many agents would read SOC novels?

    If you can't find that RARE agent, you can't sell your book, even if you were another James Joyce.

    ( Sorry, I might sound kinda upset because my submission wasn't going well, and now I'm removing SOC from the MS. )
    Last edited by starscape; 02-10-2010 at 01:18 PM.

  14. #14
    practical experience, FTW Rose English's Avatar
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    Hey Starscape,

    I can see why publishers are not interested in SOC. When I posted this question I was very confused about form, I probably meant that I liked very close 1st interior monologue.

    Having now read James Joyce Ulysses I personally wouldn't attempt SOC.

    There were many small sections I loved from Ulysses, like this one:

    " -Milk for the pussens, he said.
    -Mrkgnao! the cat cried.
    They call them stupid. They understand what we say better than we understand them. She understands all she wants to. Vindictive too. Wonder what I look like to her. Height of a tower? No, she can jump me."

    But the layers and speed of cognitive processing are impossible to convey in writing in any length. Just MHO. It's just too exhausting for the reader to work out what's going on.
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    I dunno what kind of SOC you are writing. But mine was like A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man & The Sound and the Fury

    Mine was pretty simple with many flashbacks. But I changed my mind now. That's Chapter 2. To be honest, if I were a reader myself I'd drop the book when I bumped into very complex SOC in Chapter 2.

  16. #16
    My Epic is a Sweeping Fail harbourcitystory's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Rose English View Post
    Does 'stream of consciousness' writing have a place in literary fiction?

    I only ask because that's how sections of some books appear to me; as though the writer was in 'a zone' and poured out all of their thoughts and ideas about an issue in a great gush. Reading these paragraphs feels to me like being in someone's head; intensely personal, enlightening, hard to follow, fresh, and often accompanied by a feeling of a truth spoken or a 'big' human condition being explored, revealed or resolved. To put it another way, reading this kind of writing usually gives me an 'aha' moment.

    I know straightaway when I read 'it', and I like 'it', but I'm having a hard time naming what exactly is going on. Stream of consciousness or does 'it' have another name?

    I'm not sure if this makes sense or is very clear but I'd welcome any thoughts or comments. I expect the process of trying to clarify will help me understand .

    When I was in university, I read a little book called As I Lay Dying. That is an excellent example of SOC. Both my novels are in SOC/first person-present tense. I find it really puts me in the characters' shoes and it allows me to live out life-or-death decisions they are facing, as opposed to reciting what's already transpired

  17. #17
    Migam eyeblink's Avatar
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    A relatively recent (1976) bestselling novel that uses stream of consciousness for short sections is Judith Guest's Ordinary People, which is otherwise in third person present tense.
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    Rose,

    I believe and hope that the moment you speak of is the reason we all write. If not, what are we doing? If we spill not our guts, our secrets, our hopes, our fears, our successes, and perhaps most importantly, our failures: what are we doing? Writers, I believe, see the world with an intense clarity, not necessarily how it should be but with an attention to detail that needs to be expressed.

    And when you disregard the agents and the editors and the rules and you just speak from your heart, honestly, I believe your words will resonate on the level you speak of. I myself have not reached that level of self confidence and understanding, but I strive for it. And every so often I write something that I know is the truth, something that came from my heart and is true.

    That's all. I know this makes no sense. But you gave me an 'aha' moment with your post.

    If I in my soul, I didn't believe I possessed a truth that would give someone the feeling you speak of, I would stop writing.

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    P.S.

    It is my humble opinion that starscape (no offense) will fail to connect if he/she believes his/her response to your post. I believe that fact as much as I believe the sky is blue on sunny days.

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    Quote Originally Posted by commasplicer View Post
    P.S.

    It is my humble opinion that starscape (no offense) will fail to connect if he/she believes his/her response to your post. I believe that fact as much as I believe the sky is blue on sunny days.
    None taken. I don't know what you mean, though.

    However, I stop using SOC now. I delete monologues and change the flashbacks to normal timeline.

  21. #21
    you will sledge nearly alone Impress Me's Avatar
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    Goodness, I wish dates were included on this posts so I'd know if this were an old conversation. But it's the first one here (just dropping by for the second time) that I find intriguing.

    Here's my illiterate two cents. SOC is really a continuum of POV tightness that got dropped off in the naughty corner with the writers who came after Joyce. There was a whole bunch of tiresome works -- some of Joyce's included -- that were entirely SOC, boorish, navel-gazing, and lacking bare-chested men with swords. They were often about drug addicts and wanna-be writers (usually in NYC) with plot lines that required a magnifying lens -- or a PhD in literature.

    Joyce opened a new vein. He showed another level of POV that pulled language closer to the actual process of the brain. Language, by definition, is a symbolic structure that overlies, obscures the thinking process, not trying to capture it, but trying to make it logical enough to be of any worth socially.

    I think all the focus on SOC during/after Joyce just made writers more aware of the range of the tools they already had in their toolboxes. They were already writing very tight third POVs. SOC just took it further, messing with grammar and word choice, punctuation and logic skips.

    Rose, when you quoted Roth, you picked a writer who uses SOC with a small paint brush. He jumps to it when he wants to convey that rush of interior tremor that our brains feed us and upon which we build rational thought. But we know it's not; we know it sounds stupid if, when a friend asks us, "How did you decide that?", we regurgitate the actual mental process that brought us to a particular decision

    There's a reason we can't stand to listen to folks who actually do describe the actual way their brain works; it's exhausting. We need the filter of reason that the symbolic application words to the process forces.

    So most interior character thoughts deserve the filter of structure just to tame the chaos of the brain into something we'd care to read. (When folks say that they read to escape, they are mostly talking about escaping their own minds, although most of them will tell you it's their lives. They're lying; it's their minds.) So giving them a language that strives to mimic what goes on in their minds is torchure. I've tried to read Ulysses three times and don't believe I've progressed past page 33. (The last attempt, on an airplane, maybe six years ago, I hurdled the book down the aisle. It's a big book. No one dared pick it up.)

    So what Roth and others -- Mark Gaitskill, Russo come to mind -- have done is use the SOC technique judiciously for those moments in a novel when the writer wants to plunge the reader into the the messy process of the brain, just long enough so the reader recognizes it and when it's over can wipe the sweat of his brow and say, "Yeah, right on, man," but not long enough for the reader's arm to start itching to toss the book down the aisle of the airplane and snatch the latest teen vampire book from his seat mate.

    In my writing, I think I slip into the SOC side of the spectrum when I'm already in a tight POV, wanting to give a feel for how a character's mind works, and adding all the necessary nouns and verbs and punctuation would pull away from that or insert a sense of the narrator I don't want. I only do it for a few lines at a time. Maybe that's because I'm focusing more on how one character's interior self plays against another's. It's tough, and I find myself spending hours on the small sections where these sorts of slides take place. But they're also some of my favorites. The more a novel is about one character's process, the more I think SOC would be appropriate.

    Maybe here's a quick and dirty yardstick -- when proper structure and punctuation and so forth seem to be tugging and warring with the meat of what you're writing, slipping to the outer edge of tight POV into SOC may jerk the whole thing loose and bring that elusive heat-and-truth bit to the writing.

    If anyone is still into this topic, it would be fun to look through our WIP and see where we slide on this continuum and it effects the reader.

    Eeegads, I've gone on. Sorry, just haven't read this sort of juicy stuff about technique for awhile.

  22. #22
    practical experience, FTW djunamod's Avatar
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    I admittedly don't read much contemporary fiction these days (prefer the classics) but my guess is that SOC is used in some novels but in small doses. I think it's something that today's reader would have a tough time reading in large doses like Joyce or Woolf or Faulkner because of our high-speed world and short attention spans. I still love reading Proust and Marguerite Young (Miss MacIntosh, My Darling) for the rhythm of the prose, but I think readers today want a story they can follow more than the kind of random thoughts of getting inside someone's head and staying there for a long period of time (sadly).

    One interesting thing that Anais Nin said about SOC - she said someone like Proust is much more natural about it while Joyce is more calculated and deliberate. She preferred Proust's brand of SOC and I tend to agree with her.

    Djuna

  23. #23
    practical experience, FTW djunamod's Avatar
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    But how do I do 'it' well?

    Rose, from what you explain about what you're trying to do in your novel, you might want to read Proust's "Remembrance Of Things Passed". I have the 3 book set sitting on my shelf right now . Proust's novel is all about his relationships with people and his brand of SOC I've found is more accessible than Joyce's.

    Djuna

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    Have to agree with Impress_Me

    I get no problem when reading Joyce's, but I usually don't want to read it from page one to the last.

    Why ? Because seriously, I am not interested in the story itself. I just love the style.

    Perhaps it is a kind of arrogance because it is easy to cloud your judgment like "Oh, I understand what Joyce was talking about. Other ppl would understand it too. So I should try that style."
    I'm a sponge absorbing all your nice advices.

    And if you like, would you mind taking a look and commenting on my query in SYW? Thank you.

    http://www.absolutewrite.com/forums/....php?p=6605177

  25. #25
    practical experience, FTW djunamod's Avatar
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    Starscape, I agree with you about Joyce. I feel the same way - I won't read it from page one to the last page but when I'm in the mood for some beautiful language, I can pick up Joyce or Proust and read for an hour or so but beyond that it gets a little heavy on my mind.

    Djuna

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