In Mrs Dalloway, all of the action, aside from the flashbacks, takes place on a day in June. It is an example of stream of consciousness storytelling: every scene closely tracks the momentary thoughts of a particular character. Woolf blurs the distinction between direct and indirect speech throughout the novel, freely alternating her mode of narration between omniscient description, indirect interior monologue, and soliloquy. The narration follows at least twenty characters in this way, but the bulk of the novel is spent with Clarissa Dalloway and Septimus Smith.
Because of structural and stylistic similarities, Mrs Dalloway is commonly thought to be a response to James Joyce's Ulysses, a text that is often considered one of the greatest novels of the twentieth century (though Woolf herself, writing in 1928, apparently denied this). In her essay "Modern Fiction," Woolf praised Ulysses, saying of the scene in the cemetery, "on a first reading at any rate, it is difficult not to acclaim a masterpiece." The Hogarth Press, run by her and her husband Leonard, had to turn down the chance to publish the novel in 1919, because of the obscenity law in England, as well as the practical issues regarding publishing such a substantial text.
Woolf laid out some of her literary goals with the characters of Mrs Dalloway while still working on the novel. A year before its publication, she gave a talk at Cambridge University called "Character in Fiction," revised and retitled later that year as "Mr. Bennett and Mrs. Brown."