Stream of Consciousness Narrative Techniques

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Stream of consciousness is an approach to fiction that captures the inner, as well as the outer, experience of characters. The goal is to give the reader a direct look into the character's psychological and emotional states. Early 20th century novelists were interested in the role played by the unconscious mind in a character's experience and particularly in illustrating it for readers. Imagination, reflection and sensory experience interested these stream-of-consciousness novelists. They incorporated several stream-of consciousness techniques in their novels.

Direct Interior Monologue

  • Direct interior monologue is a technique that most closely resembles the real interior monologue in the human brain. The character is not speaking to another character or to the reader, but is instead talking to himself. James Joyce famously uses the technique in "Ulysses," a 20th century novel noted for its thousand-page length and difficulty. It presents a day in the lives of both Stephen Dedalus and Leopold Bloom. Joyce uses no quotation marks, and there are frequent style switches between chapters.

Indirect Interior Monologue

  • Using the indirect interior monologue technique, an author is more present and acts as a guide, directing the reader through characters' unspoken thoughts. This technique is characterized by the use of second and third person pronouns. English novelist Virginia Woolf frequently uses this approach, and it's particularly evident in the novels "To the Lighthouse" and "Mrs. Dalloway." Mrs. Ramsay of "To the Lighthouse," for example, ponders the meaning of her life and marriage as she serves dinner: "But what have I done with my life?" thought Mrs. Ramsay, taking her place at the head of the table, and looking at all of the plates making circles on it."

Silent Soliloquy

  • William Faulkner is perhaps the American novelist best known for innovative use of the silent soliloquy. He uses it in the novel "As I Lay Dying." This technique acknowledges the presence of a reader and builds toward communicating specific ideas to that reader or audience. It enables a novelist to share the inner lives of characters with readers, while managing to limit the depth of what is shared. In "As I Lay Dying," the character Peabody describes himself this way: "I'll be damned if I can see why I don't quit. A man seventy years old, weighing two hundred and odd pounds, being hauled up and down a damn mountain on a rope."

Omniscient Description

  • An omniscient technique uses both narrative and description to reveal what's in a character's mind and heart. The reader, as a result, always has a front row seat from which to view the character's mental and emotional life. Early 20th century British novelist Dorothy Richardson uses this combination of narrative and description in her multivolume fictional work "Pilgrimage." Richardson's protagonist, Miriam Henderson, wanders London's neighborhoods and streets as she simultaneously wanders among her own thoughts and impressions. The first volume of "Pilgrimage" appeared in 1915, representing a groundbreaking style in fiction. Stream-of-consciousness techniques offer novelists tools for creating penetrating psychological fiction.

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