Monday, April 26, 2010

from "How Fiction Works" by James Wood

Free indirect style is at its most powerful when hardly visible or audible: "Ted watched the orchestra through stupid tears." In my example, the word "stupid" marks the sentence as written in the free indirect style. Remove it, and we have standard reported thought: "Ted watched the orchestra through tears." The addition of the word "stupid" raises the question: Whose word is this? It's unlikely that I would want to call my character stupid merely for listening to some music in a concert hall. No, in a marvelous alchemical transfer, the word now belongs partly to Ted. He is listening to the music and crying, and is embarassed--we can imagine him furiously rubbing his eyes--that he has allowed these "stupid" tears to fall. Convert it back to first-person speech, and we have this: "Stupid to be crying at this silly piece of Brahms," he thought." But this example is several words longer, and we have lost the complicated presence of the author.