linguist • writer • editor • lecturer • broadcaster
[Thursday 03 January, 2013]
Hands up who can recall the difference between direct and indirect speech. Yes, Martha?
Martha said, ‘I can, because I’m a good girl, and I read the entry three times.’
Martha said she could, because she was a good girl, and she had read the entry three times
Well done, Martha! You are a real cree - I mean credit to the class. With direct speech you can see what’s said directly, as if you had audio-recorded it. The inverted commas show you. So, what’s free direct speech? There’s an example in the middle of this short paragraph from my latest murder story:
Hilary crept into the back room. She saw the curtains, dragged together roughly, as if - as if - There’s someone behind them. I’m sure there’s someone behind them. I must stay calm. - She reached for the light.
This is a story set in the past, as you can tell from the verbs crept and saw, and I’m telling the story. But suddenly, in the third and fourth sentence, Hilary starts to tell the story - or, at least, she uses her own words, not mine. It’s a kind of direct speech, except that I haven’t put Hilary said, or used inverted commas. To do so would interfere with the build-up of excitement. Switching from one style to the other can heighten the atmosphere, and add to the drama. When you use direct speech in this way, it’s called free direct speech.
Now read on:
She paused. That would be stupid. Wouldn’t that be exactly what he wanted her to do? She’d be a sitting duck, framed in the doorway. She mustn’t be such a fool! She must think! Think!
What’s happened this time? We start off, once again, with me telling the story in past time. Then, in the second sentence, I switch styles, and it’s as if you were inside Hilary’s head. You can hear her thinking. The language is like indirect speech, except that there’s no Hilary thought at the beginning, and several of the features of direct speech are retained, such as questions and commands. This interesting mixture of the two styles is called free indirect speech. Many authors have used it to help represent a character’s stream of thought (or ‘stream of consciousness’, as it’s often called).
I know you’re curious, so I’ll let you into a secret. The murderer is -
Sorry about this. My publisher has just rung up to say I must get on with the fricatives, as they want to get this book online before the year 2050. You might get a clue if you read the entry on parallelism, though.

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