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Last week, I wrote a paragraph’s worth of free indirect speech in a short story I’m drafting. This little paragraph made me so happy, because out of all the third person narrative techniques I’m familiar with, free indirect speech mesmerizes me the most.

Used by famous writers like Jane Austen, Goethe, and Virginia Wolf, free indirect speech is a narrative technique that blends the distance of third person speech (S.L. Woodford wrote with vigor) with the direct engagement of first person speech (I wrote with vigor).

So, a writer can write things like:

S.L. Woodford wrote with vigor and refrained from watching Tom Hiddleston teach Cookie Monster about the importance of “delayed gratificatiion” on YouTube. The restraint will be worth the effort.

Instead of :

S.L. Woodford wrote with vigor and refrained from watching Tom Hiddleston teach Cookie Monster about the importance of “delayed gratificatiion” on YouTube.

“My restraint will be worth the effort,” she thought.

Or:

S.L. Woodford wrote with vigor and refrained from watching Tom Hiddleston teach Cookie Monster about the importance of “delayed gratificatiion” on YouTube. She thought that her restraint would be worth the effort.

Free indirect speech seamlessly allows the writer to take the reader into the thought processes of a book’s characters by incorporating their voice into the larger narrative structure. And in the process, the reader’s eye is neither distracted by the starting and stopping of direct speech’s quotations, nor is it fatigued by the constant repetition of indirect speech’s reporting phrases. I don’t know about you, but I can only read “she thought,” “he said,” “it groaned,” so many times before my innards start simmering with a quiet—yet wrathful—rage.

Because free indirect speech slips intimately into the thoughts, feelings, and physical sensations of a character, a reader and character can have a communion of thought, feeling, and physicality without superfluous punctuation and phrases cutting in at inopportune times. And, within this communion of thought, there are more opportunities for the reader to cultivate empathy through directly experiencing a character’s inner life.

How I love it when writers use free indirect speech well. It makes me feel like they trust me, the reader, when they make me privy to their characters’ most intimate thoughts. Through it, their character’s can be vulnerable. In that vulnerability, I can better understand their character’s actions and interactions with others.

And, how I love it when free indirect speech occurs in my writing. For its presence reminds me that I am giving up control. I am at last trusting my readers with my characters, my narrative, and my art.

 

P.S. Remember that Tom Hiddleston / Cookie Monster video I used in my grammar examples above? It is quite delightful if you like Tom Hiddleston, Cookie Monster, slight Shakespearean references, cookies, and delayed gratification (or any combination of those things). So, I’m just going to leave this here…

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