What is Stream of Consciousness Writing? Definition, Examples of Stream of Consciousness

Steam of consciousness definition: Stream of consciousness is a writing technique in which the writer attempts to emulate the natural flow of thoughts that a person has through the narration.

What is Stream of Consciousness?

When writing using stream of conscious, the writer attempts to emulate the natural flow of thinking a person has through the narration. Due to natural thought being disorganized in nature, stream of consciousness writing may often seem jumbled or fragmented.

Example of Stream of Consciousness Writing

James Joyce is well known for using stream of consciousness in his writing. In his poem “All Day I Hear the Noise of Waters,” the reader can identify this flow from one thought to the next:

“All day I hear the noise of waters

Making moan,

Sad as the sea-bird is when, going

Forth alone,

He hears the winds cry to the water’s


Stream of Consciousness vs. Free Writing

While both stream of consciousness and free writing are techniques that deal with writing that does not posses a structured organization, these two methods are different. Free writing allows a writer to put words and thoughts on paper in order to freely express ideas without the worry of following a structured format. Stream of consciousness is done purposely and has been meticulously editing and refined in order to accurately emulate a person’s actual thinking.

For example, in school, a teacher may post a topic on the board such as “student’s rights in school”, and require the students to “free write” on the subject. By doing so, she allows the students to ignore the conventions of essay writing in order to first start with putting thoughts down on paper.

The Function of Stream of Consciousness in Literature

By using stream of consciousness in writing, it allows for the author to accurately imitate a person’s natural train of thought because people do not think in an organized fashion. Instead, thoughts travel from past to present to dreams of the future in a jumbled, disorganized fashion. Therefore, this allows the reader to feel as if he is in the mind of the character and is able to more closely identify with this person.

Stream of Consciousness Examples in Literature

In William Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury, he utilizes the stream of conscious technique. The reader is able to see the character’s thoughts as they occur:

  • “I went back to the store. Thirteen points. Dam if I believe anybody knows anything about the dam thing except the ones that sit back in those New York offices and watch county suckers come up and beg them to take the money. Well, a man just calls shows he has no faith in himself, and like I say if you aren’t going to take the advice, what’s the use in paying money for it. Besides, these people are right up there on the ground; they know everything that’s going on. I could feel the telegram in my pocket”.

Cormac McCarthy also incorporates stream of conscious in his novel Cities of the Plain. In this example, description is given using this technique as John Grady and Billy are riding in the truck:

  • “He reached into his shirtpocket and shook out a cigarette from the pack there and lit is with his lighter and sat smoking while they rolled down the drive through the long morning shadows of fence and post and oaktree. The sun was blinding white on the dusty windshield glass. Cattle standing along the fence called after the truck and Billy studied them. Cows, he said”.


Define stream of consciousness in literature: In summation, stream of consciousness is a writing technique used when the author is attempted to accurately emulate the natural thinking process of humans.

This natural train of thought may be seen as choppy or fragmented, but it can help to allow the reader to feel as if he is in the mind of the character or in the scene himself.

Final Example:

In the beginning pages of Choke by Chuck Palahniuk, he utilizes stream of conscious as the narrator tries to persuade the reader to not go further in the story this allows the reader to identify with the narrator as well as add humor:

“If you are going to read this, don’t bother. After a couple of pages you won’t want to be here. So forget it. Go away. Get out while you’re still in one piece. Save yourself. There has to be something better on television. Or since you have so much time on your hands, maybe you could take a night course. Become a doctor. You could make something out of yourself. Treat yourself to a dinner out. Color your hair. You’re not getting any younger.”