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Jan's Master Class--STREAM OF CONSCIOUSNESS

These lessons, by one of our most consistent FaithWriters' Challenge Champions, should not be missed. So we're making a permanent home for them here.

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Jan's Master Class--STREAM OF CONSCIOUSNESS

Postby glorybee » Sun Feb 22, 2009 1:48 pm

I’m going to combine three somewhat related terms in this lesson, because the strictest definition of the main term (stream of consciousness) has been used so rarely in the Writing Challenge that I really don’t have much to say about it—but it’s a good one for educated writers to know, nevertheless. So…stream of consciousness, internal monologue, and monologue—they all cover pieces with only one, first-person voice, with varying degrees of awareness of and connection to the audience.

1. A stream of consciousness story literally consists entirely of the thoughts of the narrator. Like real thoughts, these jump around, with frequent changes in syntax and tense, and with fragments that may not even connect to the previous fragments or thoughts.

2. An internal monologue is very similar, but far more organized. It consists of your character’s thoughts, offered to the reader as if she had access to the character’s mind—but is written in a more orderly fashion. It’s different from a first person story, though. In a first person story, you’ll find other characters and a plot. In an internal monologue, you’re just peeking into a character’s thoughts, which may ramble.

3. A monologue is one person’s thoughts, but offered out loud to a listener. A monologue isn’t typically packed with plot, either.

All three of these techniques are fairly literary, usually attempted by writers who like to stray from the usual. It takes a certain amount of skill to render a chain of reflections or a muddle of perceptions into a compelling read, especially if there are jumps around in time, leaps of illogic, and incomplete thoughts. BUT…if done well, any of the three literary techniques above can really be a superb exercise in characterization. What better way, after all, to get to know a character, than through his unfiltered thoughts?

Let me give you a few links to some examples from the Writing Challenge, so that you can see the difference between internal monologue or monologue and a first person story. These are all mine…not because they’re better than anyone else’s, but because I’ve gotten too busy to search through entries for examples each week, and because I know my own stuff. I’m hoping that you’ll have some that you can link to, too.

In Swing Low, my elderly character is having an internal monologue that’s almost a prayer. It’s different from a short story, in that she’s remembering time backwards, and that she’s the only speaker; if I’d chosen to, I could have put open quotation marks at the beginning, and closed them at the end. (Those quotation marks are a good test of whether a writing is a monologue, in fact.)

Salute is a monologue—another dying character (I didn’t realize I did so many of those…), this time dictating one last memory to his scribe. This one almost has a plot, but the story is interrupted several times by the ‘real’ world—the fading day and his instructions to the scribe.

One more, then a few comments, and on to the homework. Time Kills You Slowly is the monologue of a crabby old man, directed entirely at an unseen listener. The fellow is telling a story to his listener, but the reader is occasionally reminded that she’s reading his ramblings as he interrupts himself and chastises his audience.

What do you think—is this something you’d like to attempt for the Challenge? Here are a few pointers to keep in mind.

1. Your thinker/speaker should be a really interesting person. I seem to have made all of mine old or dying…I bet you can do better than that. Maybe your person could be very funny or sarcastic, or battered by circumstances, or in unfamiliar territory, or—oooh, here’s a good one…otherwise mute (because of handicap, or imprisonment, or…) so that their thoughts are all we can have of them. But an interior monologue with a person thinking about their grocery list or a boring church service will probably not appeal to most readers.

2. Remind your readers every now and then that they are reading a monologue (interior or otherwise) by making the thinker/speaker interrupt himself, refer to the fact that he’s thinking, or address his listener.

3. Be sure to give your monologue the voice of the speaker—quirks of thought or speech to make her seem very much a real and unique individual.

Homework: Write the first 100 words or so of an interior monologue, a monologue, or even a stream of consciousness. Then tell what you liked or disliked about this literary technique.

IF you do the homework, you may link to a monologue or internal monologue in a challenge entry. And if you give us a link, please also tell us about your piece. Why did it work for you to write in this form? What was easy or difficult about it? Any pointers for us?


This class was definitely NOT my best effort—sorry about that! It’s been a bit of an overwhelming week, and I don’t know too much about this subject. But I’m percolating an idea about the next Master Class…will fill you all in soon.

Next week: Surprise! No, I don’t mean it’ll be a surprise…that’s the term. Surprise!
Jan Ackerson

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Postby GShuler » Sun Feb 22, 2009 6:23 pm

Before I do my assignment, I have a question. My attempt will be a person in a coma that hears visitors that think she doesn't hear anything. Her thoughts, by the end of the story, would reveal a lot about her AND her visitors. Would that be stream of thought, or just a story?
I had something really memorable to write here but I forgot what it was.
Gerald Shuler

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Postby glorybee » Sun Feb 22, 2009 6:36 pm

Sounds like a stream of consciousness to me, Gerald. If someone "outside" of your coma victim's head speaks, only indicate it by the thoughts and perceptions of the coma victim.

I can't wait to read this!
Jan Ackerson

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Postby GShuler » Sun Feb 22, 2009 8:08 pm

Here's my tidbit:

Now who’s at the door? Those fool nurses should know by now not to knock. What’s a woman in a coma gonna do? Jump up and answer the door? Fool nurses! Oh, that sounds like Jill’s voice. How long has it been? I have no idea. Too long.

Yep, that’s Jill alright. Only she would come into my room, knowing my condition, and ask how I’m doin’. I’m doin’ hunky-dorry. How am I supposed to be doin’. Humph… Frank’s with her. He oughta’ keep his mouth shut completely. I CAN hear what Jill says… PLEASE don’t stop her from talkin’ to me.

Land O’ Mighty… if I could, I’d write that boy out of my will right now. He doesn’t even know I’m still here. Oh, please… don’t make her leave so soon. I need her love… I need her…

The door just closed. She’s gone. Now how long will it be?

Jill? Is that your voice? He left without you?

Oh, Jill, I love you so!



Now, another question: Are letters to friends a form of Stream of Conciousness? If so, here is You Buried Me Today
http://www.faithwriters.com/wc-article- ... p?id=19896

I wrote this one to set on paper what things I might want to let people know IF I were able to send a letter from the grave.
I had something really memorable to write here but I forgot what it was.
Gerald Shuler

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Postby glorybee » Sun Feb 22, 2009 8:15 pm

Excellent, Gerald--a perfect example of an internal monologue. You placed your reader solidly inside the mind of that coma victim...this has the makings of a really cool longer story.

The one that you linked to is a monologue, too. This is a real strength for you, and I'm glad you wrote them.

Can you tell us, please, what appeals to you about this form of writing? Any hints from you on how to do it well?
Jan Ackerson

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Postby GShuler » Sun Feb 22, 2009 10:29 pm

glorybee wrote:Can you tell us, please, what appeals to you about this form of writing? Any hints from you on how to do it well?


Since I had never heard of this type of writing before this class, I can only tell you why I wrote the way I did. In "You Buried Me Today", all I was trying to do was get out of the box with the topic. By writing a letter I was able to say what needed to be said without needing to consider what might be said by the person reading it.

Maybe that is part of the power of this type of writing. You can speak your mind freely, without needing to measure up to someone else's expectations. You think what you think and life goes on... even if you think things you have no intentions of ever saying. But with a writer directing the MC's "thoughts", you end up with structure in the midst of chaos. Even if it wanders from topic to topic, it still paints an entire word picture that can say "Here's how the world looks to me at this moment."

Hey, wouldn't that make it a slice of life as well?

Wouldn't it be a wild ride to read a story from the stream of consciousness of a person facing perilous danger... like maybe you jump from a plane and your shoot doesn't open. That would be pure stream of consciousness. Or, maybe a scuba diver facing a great white shark. Or,... well, the possibilities are endless.
I had something really memorable to write here but I forgot what it was.
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Postby Allison » Sun Feb 22, 2009 11:40 pm

Ok, so I'm more used to monologues which are spoken aloud to an audience, so I decided to go a different route this time and try internal monologue. I did "stuck in an elevator." I've written about that before, but in the form of a skit... Don't know why that seems to be a common topic for me. Maybe it has to with the horror stories and actual experiences with the 30 year old elevator in my dorms Freshman year. :roll: lol Don't worry though. I've never actually been stuck in an elevator. Had it stop for a second before starting again and other strance incidents, yes. But never actually stuck. It's more than 100 words. But here we go.

After reading Gerald's though, I'm wondering if this might be kind of between "stream of consciousness" and "internal monologue?" Can there be an "in between?"

Also, can an internal monologue be interrupted by another character speaking? Like say a teacher is thinking about something else and a student asks her a question. Could you include the student's actual words and then have the teacher respond in thoughts? Something like this:

"Miss Allison?"
Huh? Who was that? Oh. Morgan. Okay, Allison. Snap out of it and listen.

Would that still be an internal monologue, or would that be classified differently, since there's another character involved?

Anyway, here's my attempt.

Well, this is just wonderful. Stuck in an elevator. And with no lights. Even better. Okay. Let's see here. Think, Allison. Think. What do I do next? Buzzer. I'll try the buzzer. Oh, but wait. I can't see which buttons are which. And I can't read braille.... On the other hand, the elevator is stuck. Any button I press would be better than nothing. Maybe I should just press all of them. Okay. Here I go. Nope. Nope. Nope. Nope. Ah! There's the buzzer. Come on, come on. I'll bet there's no one even in hearing distance. Hey, isn't there usually a phone in elevators, for just such an emergency? Or maybe a call button.... Maybe if I feel around a bit... Hey, my eyes are finally adjusting a bit.... And I don't see a door for a phone. Lovely. I wonder if I can report that to the safety board?

Okay, Allison. Focus. You're trying to get OUT of here, not get anyone in trouble. At least not yet. Maybe one of the buttons is a call button. Let's see... the buzzer was... here, so the call button might be... here? Nope. Here? Nope. I don't think there is one.

Time for plan B... Maybe I can bang on the doors and scream. Lord, don't let me die here. Please?


I thought I had a bunch that would qualify for this, but as I"m looking at my entries now, I'm not sure I've done any true monologues. Can monologues have other speaking in them? Something like: "He said to me 'Blah, blah, blah.' I wasn't paying attention."

If true monologues don't have any dialogue, then I'm not sure I've done a true monologue for the challenge... Hmm... Something to think about for the future, I suppose.
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Postby swfdoc1 » Sun Feb 22, 2009 11:45 pm

Since I don’t have anything to link to, I’ll cheat on the homework. This blurb was not written for this class. It’s from my unpublished novel. It is an example of third person POV internal/interior monologue (with a little context). Note that with third person POV, you can interrupt and add a note from the outside the character’s head:

Next—as if in fulfillment of her last thought—she found herself thinking about Peter’s strange statement, “I knew you weren’t supposed to marry Ed or Harry.”

What could it mean? She had never thought about marrying an Ed or a Harry. Did she even know any Eds or Harrys? Well, of course, she knew Ed Blankenship. He is the one that had convinced her to go see Peter. (Or so she told herself. She still didn’t understand that he was just the sounding board she had used to talk herself into it.) But there was no marriage connection there. Were there any other significant Eds? No, there were not. What about Harrys? Again, nothing.

What was Peter talking about?

Eventually, she gave up and turned her thoughts in yet another direction.
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Postby Chely » Mon Feb 23, 2009 4:45 am

This is a bit R rated; for depicted violence as well as language. In this case, the latter seemed necessary because of the former. If this were really happening to me, the language would be off the charts graphic. I could only get to 85 words...it made me squirm writing it. (Delete it if you wish, Jan...)

Get off me! Oh, God, no, please, no! I can’t breathe…what is this in my mouth? My pillowcase! Get off me you bastard! Oww, you’re hurting me…please stop. Please, please, please! Oh, God, why is this happening? Make him stop, Lord. Don’t let him hurt the girls…

THE GIRLS!! Don’t wake up sweethearts! It’s okay, mama’s okay. It’ll be okay. Shhh.

Was that the bathroom door? NO, NO! Stay here. Leave her alone! Untie me so I can kill you! Come back here you bastard!


Geez, that gives me the people quakes. I don't think I'll be expanding that. I find this device is challenging because I can't draw in the surroundings or situation, except through the MCs mind's eye.

Anyway, I have one piece that is truly a stream of consciousness (I think). And, like you Jan, it's the last unspoken words of a young, dying woman to her husband and her family.(It was for the topic, Family Reunion)

Teetering on the Cusp (one of my favorite titles)

This was one of those pieces that I put myself into. I am the MC, but in a fictional situation. I was able to channel the emotion of my miscarriage, and my desire to see them again. The story was actually born out of a heartbreaking email from my sister, who was suffering on the anniversary of her daughter's (Miranda) due date. The last few paragraphs still choke me up, imagining my husband being put though that. Ugh.

I did lose a couple readers...some commented that they didn't know if the MC was male or female, and since I bounced around a bit, there was confusion as to who exactly I was "addressing". Funny, since it was my thoughts, they made perfect sense to me, lol! In general, I think this device is difficult for just those sorts of reasons; getting the reader enough information to put the pieces together, WITHOUT breaking the natural cadence of thought. :roll:

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Postby violin4jesus » Mon Feb 23, 2009 7:25 am

You know, it would have been nice if you had mentioned that you wanted Percocet the last two times I walked into the room, rather than me having to walk ALL THE WAY back to the desk after I just got you water. But no. You had to wait till I got back to the room....STUPID PYXIS!!! Read my finger!!! Darn machine - I'm gonna have to change my code. Grrr....for crying out loud....I just want to sit down for a sec, eat something, maybe even get a chance to pee....hopefully she doesn't need anything else. Hey, what time is it anyway?

I'm sure I don't have to mention that the above internal monologue is completely autobiographical. :lol: Ahhh....the life of a nurse....BTW the pyxis is the medication dispenser, and it lets us in by our fingerprint. It does frequently error out, especially when you're trying to get something in a hurry. :?

I actually really enjoy this literary technique because I feel like it's a way to get out of the formality of writing. Too often I'm caught up in what sounds professional that it's nice to put a real MC voice on the paper - how I REALLY sound in true life. I think it puts that human quality into my writing - something that everyone can relate to.

This was my second attempt at the Writing Challenge....and concerning a topic that was *clearly* on my mind, lol. Names were changed, of course, but very similar situations I have faced:
Wanted: Cute Boy That Loves Jesus

Good thing I found one, eh? :roll:

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Postby hwnj » Mon Feb 23, 2009 7:58 am

Homework--I never liked homework...

Well hello Cocoa. Have you been drinking from the bathtub again? Your head is all wet!

Who could be calling at this hour of the morning? Too early for telemarketers...

It's about time they got back to me about whether or not they like the dress I picked for the wedding. Now I can snip the tags and lose the receipt.

What was that nip for, Cocoa? You hungry, or am I just not paying you enough attention.

If I don't get something out of the freezer for dinner, we're going to be hungry tonight, too.
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Postby hwnj » Mon Feb 23, 2009 8:11 am

One other thought...

Prayer, other than listening for that still small voice, is a monologue, and can often be stream of consciousness.
Holly

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'It is better to be liked for the true you, than to be loved for who people think you are.'

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Postby glorybee » Mon Feb 23, 2009 10:25 am

Okay, Allison, I'll respond to your questions/comments one at a time here.

First of all, your elevator one is definitely what I'd call stream of consciousness, because it jumps around, features incomplete sentences, muddled thoughts, etc. A wonderful example.

The one with a student's thoughts in reaction to the teacher's words? Not really any of the things from this lesson, but still a fun approach. Feel free to use it some time!

As far as the monologue containing things that other people said--well, yes, but it's edging over the line into just first person fiction. Monologues tend to be much more I-centered.
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Postby glorybee » Mon Feb 23, 2009 10:35 am

Steve, you've flummoxed me. I've never thought of a monologue or stream-of-consciousness in third person before.

I'm still thinking about it. My suspicion is that it's not really a monologue...but I don't know if there's a name for it. Whatever it is, it has an interesting effect on the reader. It's as if we're privvy to her inner thoughts, but there's still a distancing factor: the 'she' as opposed to 'I'.

It takes a very good writer to do what you've done there; I'm pretty sure I've never attempted it, nor could I do it well. I've been studying your little paragraph for a few minutes now. I like it, a lot. You get the gold star this week, for knowing more than the teacher.
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Postby glorybee » Mon Feb 23, 2009 10:41 am

Wow, Chely! Your little example took my breath away. Definitely stream-of-consciousness--and definitely horrific. (Glad you decided to stop, girl).

And your linked piece is a powerful monologue that I remember very well. This seems to be a strength of yours...which doesn't surprise me, because I think of you as a very literary writer. Well done!
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