OK, the Sunday morning writer’s blog is back. Why? So I can put down thoughts about writing for my creative writing students without having to repeat the same things to each of them. Last winter for instance, I wrote about what James Wood calls ‘the free, indirect style.’ And it’s time to have another look at it. In essence, the free indirect style chops off the need for phrases, like “feeling terrible” in the following sentences:
He looked out the window at the falling snow. “I hate winter,” he said, feeling terrible.
If you use the free indirect style, the same sentences will take on the character’s feelings without attaching them to the character. So the same sentence will sound like this:
The snow was coming down hard. Loathsome winter was back. “Gees,” he said.
What happened? The same emotions described in the phrase “feeling terrible” have been put into the sentences without saying who is feeling terrible. Letting the sentence express the character’s feelings without your character, or you, the author, directly reporting on those feelings, may seem like a minor tweak but using the free, indirect style will make your work read like a pro.
Of course, the free, indirect style works so subtly you may not notice it when you see it. But its impact is powerful because it closes the psychic distance between the reader and the character on the page. Like a camera, the psychic distance in fiction can move in for a close up or do a sweeping panoramic shot. And for those of you who rely too heavily on dialogue to move along your story, the free, indirect style plus less dialogue will solve the problem in a pinch. And in many cases, it will eliminate the need for dialogue in direct quotes because the information is there in the indirect sentences. In other words, you can describe something without you having to tag the feelings to the character or to yourself, the author. Do you get it now? Send me a note if you’re still puzzled. I’ve still got some things to learn about the free, indirect style myself.
(There is more about the free indirect style on page 9 of www.susanswanonline.com)