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.)
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!