Consciousness in and of itself is a kind of fiction, a cleaned up version of reality. Understanding how the mind works is vital to creating interesting and innovative fiction. William James said that consciousness seems to be continuous, “without breach, crack, or division.” We move cleanly from one thought or feeling to the next without breaks or pauses.
But James also claimed consciousness only seemed “continuous to itself by an illusion.” He said consciousness was a function, not an entity. Its four essential qualities are sensation, emotion, volition, and thought. Our own minds build continual fabrications, elegant and simplified summaries of reality, and writers should take note that fiction, like consciousness, is artificial.
There is also a great deal we do that our minds don’t really notice—turning a steering wheel, tapping the brakes, picking our noses as we adjust the rearview mirror. Even our own minds edit out the extraneous material of a day’s activity. Fiction is made up of all sorts of other bits of language and image, knowingly borrowed some of the time, but most of the time unconsciously stolen.