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Beyond the Lone Islands

Thursday, 8 April 2010

BTT: Plots vs Stream-of-Consciousness

Plots? Or Stream-of-Consciousness?
Which would you rather read?

I had to look this up to refresh my memory...

stream of consciousness
Narrative technique in nondramatic fiction intended to render the flow of myriad impressions — visual, auditory, tactile, associative, and subliminal — that impinge on an individual consciousness. To represent the mind at work, a writer may incorporate snatches of thought and grammatical constructions that do not seem coherent because they are based on the free association of ideas and images. The term was first used by William James in The Principles of Psychology (1890). In the 20th century, writers attempting to capture the total flow of their characters' consciousness commonly used the techniques of interior monologue, which represents a sequence of thought and feeling. Novels in which stream of consciousness plays an important role include James Joyce's Ulysses (1922), William Faulkner's The Sound and the Fury (1929), and Virginia Woolf's The Waves (1931).

Britannica Concise Encyclopedia, as quoted by

I have to go with Plots! Looking at some more lists of classic examples of Stream-of-Consciousness, I find that I haven't actually read a whole lot of them (I have to confess I never even tried Ulysses, for example); and those that I have read, I don't remember very well.

But surely there are lots of books that contain a mix? Seems to me, for example, that many modern thrillers insert the Stream-of-Consciousness kind of monologues - usually in italics - to let the reader know what the (often anonymous) villain/murderer is thinking; while the detective has to rely on the Plot. Actually I started reading (listening to) a Swedish detective novel of that kind the other day, and when the first anonymous monologue came up, I said to myself: Oh, another one of that kind... And found it slightly irritating! Sometimes it serves a purpose, but as narrative technique I think it's getting a little over-used.

Besides... It's really hard to make it quite convincing, isn't it? To render the flow of myriad impressions. I was listening to a different kind of book the other day (not fiction), about Ways to Wisdom (by Swedish author Stefan Einhorn). One thing he said (or quoted from somewhere) was that it has been estimated that we think around 60000 thoughs each day. 95% of those thoughts are repetition - we tend to stick to the same old thoughts a lot! But - and he made a point of this - that still means that we think 3000 NEW thoughts each day...

How anyone went about it to calculate that, I have no idea, though (and neither did Einhorn). It will hardly have been by letting a number of people write every single thought down, because no one can write that fast. (While writing one thought down, a great number of other ones will already have passed through our mind...)

But even in the Blogworld we're balancing daily between these two, I think - Stream-of-Consciousness vs Plot. Sandra had a question in her blog yesterday, about why we blog, and whether a blog (or a blog post) should have a "point". Thinking about that again now with the BTT question in mind, it strikes me (a new thought!) that even though this blog of mine has no specific "point" (other than to be a blog for putting all kinds of thoughts out into the cyberspace and see what happens...), I'm usually striving for the individual post to have one (even if some days the point might just be to let readers know that "I'm still here"). Moreover, I probably have the same expectation when reading other people's blogs (subconsciously, if not consciously). And the reason that some blogs (or posts) leave me feeling sort of confused and unsure of what the person is really trying to say, may be that they're really more of the Stream-of-Consciousness kind than of the Telling-a-Story and/or Making-a-Point kind. Hm. I'll have to think about that...!

Stream of Consciousness...?


Lori said...

Plotting is my answer, check it out [HERE]

Ginny said...

appropriate picture to go with your post....thoughts swirling in my head DID they count those thoughts....your posts never confuse...I like streams....thoughts...combining them...plots only sometimes...see whats in subconcious've got me thinking an awful lot...brain overload...must end comment now.......

Scriptor Senex said...

I agree - it's plots for me too. But some authors do manage to mix both and I've just read 'Our Lady of the Forest' by David Guterson which does just that.

Fredegonde said...

What a great post! That is a hilarious statistic and I'd love to know how those numbers were arrived at. And I quite agree that long paragraphs of internal monologue, especially when they're in italics, can be very irritating.


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