Use Wisely, Deftly, Sparingly
In my previous blog post, Stream of Consciousness – Part I: Then and Now, I pointed out how in the early 1900s writers discovered how to use stream of consciousness (or interior dialogue). Once that happened, they then used it to excess. Readers grew weary of multiple pages filled with the character’s free-wheeling inner thoughts. The use of this technique then had to be brought under control. Writers had to learn how to use it wisely, deftly, and sparingly.
The fun thing about writing inner thoughts of a character is that most all of us would love to be able to read someone’s mind. We hear what is being said, but then it comes down to: “I wonder what he’s really thinking.” This happens because we do it ourselves – say one thing while thinking quite another. (Our characters do the same thing.)
Emotions Laid Bare
Add to this the fact that we all talk to ourselves, either totally silent, or barely mumbling. When talking to self, we are much less inhibited. Our deepest emotions are laid bare.
Sometimes we argue with self, and so it goes into a question and answer session. We are searching for answers. We want to know; we want to understand.
This knowledge then is put to good use in our novel as we plumb the depths of our character. Through the use of stream of consciousness, we are seeking to know the truest nature of this person. This can be done without external (author) explanation or commentaries.
First Person or Second Person?
Inner dialogue can be presented either in first person or second person. The way to discover which will work best for you is to simply try both.
I’m such a sap. Why did I ever believe her? I saw all the warning signs.
Oh, Colin, you are such a sap. How could you have ever fallen for that line? You saw all the warning signs.
Try these on for size then read back through the passage and see which one seems to create the effect you’re looking for. Different scenes, different pace, different tone can all come into play.
Passive or Active
The examples above are passive inner dialogue as the character chides himself for falling for a lie. If it were active, it might read like this:
Dump her! Just dump her, you sap. She’s nothing but trouble. Get out of here. Now.
As you can see, the more emotional the inner dialogue, the more emotional the scene.
Weaving in stream of consciousness is definitely an art. The idea is to bring it into play when needed for the plot to be advanced, but (word of caution) avoid adding inner thoughts just for the sheer fun of it.
Here are a few pointers as to what the use of stream of consciousness can achieve. Inner thoughts can:
- allow insight into a character
- allow characters to be unique
- present character’s true voice
- reveal character’s true motivation
- slow the pace of a scene (therefore, never stick in inner thoughts into a fast-paced action scene)
- reveal a character’s conflict between his deeper self and the needs of others
In the next blog post we’ll look at different ways stream of consciousness can be set up and punctuated – something that can cause confusion for the beginning novelist.