How about discussing Free Indirect Discourse?

The writing process, writing advice, and updates on your work in progress
User avatar
polymath
Posts: 1821
Joined: December 8th, 2009, 11:22 am
Location: Babel
Contact:

How about discussing Free Indirect Discourse?

Post by polymath » May 22nd, 2010, 11:09 am

It's a complex topic, complicated by differences of opinion between Structuralists, Formalists, Narratologists, Linguists, and Semioticians on what constitutes direct, indirect, and Free Indirect Discourse, speech and thought.

I could do with a firmer grasp on FID.
Spread the love of written word.

GeeGee55
Posts: 173
Joined: February 19th, 2010, 11:01 pm
Contact:

Re: How about discussing Free Indirect Discourse?

Post by GeeGee55 » May 23rd, 2010, 12:27 am

I once drove three and a half hours to attend a workshop on narrative technique and we spent a very limited amount of time on free indirect discourse. Each of the participants identified a passage in his/her work that could be changed using FID. When I asked the instructor why it was better he had a difficult time giving me an answer. I feel quite unqualified to discuss this Polymath, I'm more hoping to benefit from any knowledge you or others might have to share.

I looked up the definition in Wikipedia and this example is given:

Examples
Quoted or direct speech:
He laid down his bundle and thought of his misfortune. "And just what pleasure have I found, since I came into this world?" he asked.
Reported or normal indirect speech:
He laid down his bundle and thought of his misfortune. He asked himself what pleasure he had found since he came into the world.
Free indirect speech:
He laid down his bundle and thought of his misfortune. And just what pleasure had he found, since he came into this world?

Simple, but accessible,these pretty much fit the examples we were given in the workshop. I know from your post that you have studied many more complex ideas and thoughts on identifying and using FID.

I think perhaps the strength of this technique is that it allows the writer to create the rapport with the reader I have seen you mention in other posts. For a moment, without the author leaving the third person, the reader is transported into the character's mind.

It's always interesting to me to wonder whether or not the author deliberately used the technique or if it just occurred naturally as he/she was writing. From some other things I have read, it would seem Austen was aware of what she was doing as it is said that FID appeared more and more frequently in her later works. I have not had the pleasure of studying this myself, but maybe someday when time allows.

Have you used FID in your own stories? How did you identify where/when it would effective? What do you hope to achieve by knowing more about FID?

I really hope someone here will be able to give you the discussion you want.

User avatar
polymath
Posts: 1821
Joined: December 8th, 2009, 11:22 am
Location: Babel
Contact:

Re: How about discussing Free Indirect Discourse?

Post by polymath » May 23rd, 2010, 3:37 am

Yes, GeeGee55, you have the gist of FID's purpose in hand. FID sheds boundaries, slips loosely past real author addressing real reader, past narrator addressing narratee into intimate reader-viewpoint character rapport, opens windows of meaning subject to reader interpretation, engages readers in interpreting meaning, and paradoxically strengthens meaning. A magical paradox when a third-person narrator's persona is subsumed by a viewpoint character's. I've started identifying FID in first-person and second-person narrators, too, as well as in third person.

I've found FID methods separated into speech and thought, and similarities between the two. I've got a handle on FIT. I'm still working out FIS. I've been comparing and contrasting FID techniques in the works of writers I favor. Each has some similar, some differing techniques, and different approaches and emphases.

I suspect that writers come by their FID methods by examining what they've read and found virtuous, dissecting, practicing, and applying as they grow as writers. Austen's evolution as a writer shows strong evidence that might be the case. I'm guessing she found unintended, perhaps instinctively applied methods in works that preceded hers, picked them up and played with them until she was satisified, or instinctively or accidentally used FID methods in her early works and developed them. Probably both. Maybe she was being playful one afternoon and came up with insights on the fly, liked them and mastered them.

Linguist Michael Toolan wrote a paper titled "The 'Irresponsibility' of FID." The article's foreground meaning seems to condemn the method for its irresponsible reporting. Who's saying what to who? Is a writer making statements, expressing commentary? The narrator making statements? A viewpoint character? How's a reader to know unequivocally? Or trust a narrator or a writer when they're unreliably passing off responsibility for controversial statements to a viewpoint character's point of view, and, by de re extension, readers? What, place blame assignment in readers laps? However, the subtext of Toolan's article celebrates FID's freedom of speech with a verbal irony of praising by faint damning--understatement. He praises FID by subtlely using FID. Delicious. It's a dense article though.

http://artsweb.bham.ac.uk/MToolan/Toola ... %20FID.doc
Spread the love of written word.

User avatar
Bryan Russell/Ink
Posts: 430
Joined: December 20th, 2009, 10:44 pm
Contact:

Re: How about discussing Free Indirect Discourse?

Post by Bryan Russell/Ink » May 23rd, 2010, 11:49 am

polymath wrote:Linguist Michael Toolan wrote a paper titled "The 'Irresponsibility' of FID." The article's foreground meaning seems to condemn the method for its irresponsible reporting. Who's saying what to who? Is a writer making statements, expressing commentary? The narrator making statements? A viewpoint character? How's a reader to know unequivocally? Or trust a narrator or a writer when they're unreliably passing off responsibility for controversial statements to a viewpoint character's point of view, and, by de re extension, readers? What, place blame assignment in readers laps?

I agree with this to an extent, and yet I don't see how that lessens its validity or authority. Other viewpoints are equally a matter of artifice. I mean, what are most third person narrators? A pretense at playing God? The writer him/herself? Clearly that's not intended in most third person narratives. The narrator is an almost abstract construct, a formulation of disembodied words relating a tale from an often unknown vantage point.

And first person? In past tense, the first person narrator is often without a temporal location, sort of drifting in time. And how many of these stories have elements that would make this future relay of story logically troublesome? And in the present tense... well, first person present tense actually makes no logical sense. A temporal moment is given: the immediate moment. A "speaker" is given, too: the first person character. But how is that possible? They certainly aren't speaking these words out loud (the words aren't part of the action of the story), and yet they aren't thinking these words either, unless it's stream of consciousness. In fact, the present tense narrative actuallys tells you what they are thinking, and it's not these words of narrative. And people don't narrate their lives in the moment, full of dialogue tags and descriptions and narrated action. So it's not their words or their thoughts in the moment... but it is in the moment, or so the tense claims. In that sense, the viewpoint is a lie. Either in the temporal location of the narrative, or in the nature of the voice as a construct, a relation of how the character would relate the story in the moment if they somehow could. A ghost in the machine of character, a mirror who relates what his body and mind are doing. Aren't multiple personalities fun?

So I don't have much problem with Free Indirect Discourse's blurring of reality, the melding of voice that occurs between narrator and character. Particularly when that narrative voice is a sort of phantasmal construct to begin with.

It comes back to story, to voice, to engaging the reader, to pulling them into the reality of the story. It's about belief and authority. Does the FID voice convince, of both the narrative and the character? I think that's the key. And when done well the end result is beautiful. Ian McEwan's <i>Saturday</i>, for example, is brilliantly rendered. The melding of the main character, Henry Perowne, into the narrative voice is seamless, evocative and deeply human. Wonderful stuff.
The Alchemy of Writing at www.alchemyofwriting.blogspot.com

User avatar
polymath
Posts: 1821
Joined: December 8th, 2009, 11:22 am
Location: Babel
Contact:

Re: How about discussing Free Indirect Discourse?

Post by polymath » May 23rd, 2010, 12:29 pm

I had a world-shaking epiphany six or so months ago. I'm still grapling with its ramifications, in my personal as well as my writing life. Wthout that epiphany, I wouldn't have been able to fully nor easily understand Toolan's FID article, especially the ironies of it. The epiphany is a consequence of investigating proxy reality's place in literature, in life, in existential philosophies.

The proxy reality potentials of literature are an ongoing and contentious debate. Where reality proxies' metal meets the reality road comes from engaging readers' conscious, critical thinking faculties within the participation mystiques of secondary, even tertiary and quarternary realities literature poses.

Thought exercises are greatly stimulating processes for realizing the proxies literature poses. At the very basest level, a fictional text is first a retelling of a story lived in actual, proximal, and/or invented reality. A story actually lived is a retelling of an event perceived momentarily after the moment of experience, a secondary reality in itself. I've come to believe the latter is where the ideal narrative-reader interface lies.
Spread the love of written word.

User avatar
Bryan Russell/Ink
Posts: 430
Joined: December 20th, 2009, 10:44 pm
Contact:

Re: How about discussing Free Indirect Discourse?

Post by Bryan Russell/Ink » May 23rd, 2010, 12:36 pm

Oh, just wanted to add that for anyone who wants to read about Free Indirect Discourse, I really liked How Fiction Works, by James Wood. Very interesting book on writing, with some great hands-on stuff about Free Indirect, looking at writers like Roth and Updike.
The Alchemy of Writing at www.alchemyofwriting.blogspot.com

User avatar
polymath
Posts: 1821
Joined: December 8th, 2009, 11:22 am
Location: Babel
Contact:

Re: How about discussing Free Indirect Discourse?

Post by polymath » May 23rd, 2010, 1:08 pm

I second Ink's recommendation. Wood's How Fiction Works is probably the most audience-accessible poetics text on FID and related topics. Toolan, Chatman, Barthes, Shklovsky, Propp, et al, Structualists, Formalists, Linguists, Semioticians, language philosophers, whatever, aren't as penetrable as Wood.

Wood implies being easier to access is one of his goals with the book. From the preface; "Barthes in particular does not write as if he expects to be comprehended by any kind of common reader (even one who is training for uncommonness . . .)."
Last edited by polymath on May 23rd, 2010, 1:37 pm, edited 1 time in total.
Spread the love of written word.

User avatar
Bryan Russell/Ink
Posts: 430
Joined: December 20th, 2009, 10:44 pm
Contact:

Re: How about discussing Free Indirect Discourse?

Post by Bryan Russell/Ink » May 23rd, 2010, 1:35 pm

You might be able to pay me to read Barthes again. But I'm talking five digits. :)
The Alchemy of Writing at www.alchemyofwriting.blogspot.com

bcomet
Posts: 588
Joined: January 23rd, 2010, 2:11 pm
Contact:

Re: How about discussing Free Indirect Discourse?

Post by bcomet » May 25th, 2010, 4:03 pm

Pulling back from the literary theory, (although I also enjoy the scholastic gallantry and banter you have displayed) perhaps you all can help me with a more practical understanding and application.

Here is a sentence I've been thinking about:

He thought he had never heard such a perfect sound.

How would this be improved or changed making it Free Indirect Speech?

Why?

He had never heard such a perfect sound.

Does it really bring it in closer in a good way?

"I have never heard such a perfect sound," he said.
Does this preserve more of a show than a tell if he speaks it.

--

If possible, using (other)(mulitple) sets of examples, and then explaining how they work better or worse or differently would be enlightening to me to hear about too.

User avatar
Bryan Russell/Ink
Posts: 430
Joined: December 20th, 2009, 10:44 pm
Contact:

Re: How about discussing Free Indirect Discourse?

Post by Bryan Russell/Ink » May 25th, 2010, 4:20 pm

Well, the edit there doesn't necessarily bring it into the realm of Free Indirect Discourse. It could be Free Indirect, depending on the voice of the character, but it's hard to say in such a small sample without context. It still seems to be in a narrative voice, rather distant from the character. As opposed to something like:

He listened for a moment. Oh, the perfection of that sound, the lingering resonance, washing over him, so beautiful, so beautiful...

This is still the narrator, with no direct thoughts set out, and the second part is still referring to the character as "him"... and yet the wording is different, personal, blurred in with the voice of the character. A character's voice has suffused that of the narrator. The narrator describes, but from a sort of interior space in the character. The reader is much closer to this character, the narrative distance lessened. The original sentences could probably be applied to all sorts of characters, as the words are still fairly distant. But at this range, the wording would have to change drastically depending on personal characteristics.

A different character, say, would have something like:

He listened for a moment. Damn, that was a perfect sound. Right on the button.

Again, the narrative distance is lessened, the voice of the character blurred into that of the narrator. But this is a very different character, and so the effect of the words is very different.

Anyway, hope this helps a bit.
The Alchemy of Writing at www.alchemyofwriting.blogspot.com

bcomet
Posts: 588
Joined: January 23rd, 2010, 2:11 pm
Contact:

Re: How about discussing Free Indirect Discourse?

Post by bcomet » May 25th, 2010, 4:34 pm

Hi Ink,

It helps. Actually the more examples (with explanations) the better. I'd like to understand these distinctions more concretely.

Thank you.

User avatar
polymath
Posts: 1821
Joined: December 8th, 2009, 11:22 am
Location: Babel
Contact:

Re: How about discussing Free Indirect Discourse?

Post by polymath » May 25th, 2010, 5:00 pm

bcomet wrote:He thought he had never heard such a perfect sound.
One characteristic of Free Indirect Thought, de re pronoun "he" potentially spoiled by indirect (not free) "thought" attribution reported by the narrator. The sentence becomes merely a narrator's report, a tell. I give it a maybe, maybe not FID.

De re pronouns slip free of a narrator's reporting when volitional thought verbs (knew, believed, suspected, understood, etc.) or modal verbs (would, should, could, might, may, can, etc.) or exclamations indicate a viewpoint character possibly personally thinks a reported thought or personally experiences a sensation. Free Indirect Thoughts containing all three are exquisite.

He heard such an angelic sound.
His sensation, his experience, clearly his thoughts, his reporting of a sound he expresses commentary on as "angelic." A subtle overstatement, an exclamation not needing an exclamation point. "Angelic" reports his personal percerption of the sound, vague as it is, it's his reporting to himself in the moment of the sound and thought reported through the narrator. A Free Indirect Thought.

Tagging dialogue or thought with "he said" or "he thought," for example, though mostly invisible, nonetheless are narrator reporting, and therefore direct discourse, direct narrator reporting of dialogue or thought, or indirect narrator reporting when the narrator paraphrases dialogue or thought.
Spread the love of written word.

User avatar
polymath
Posts: 1821
Joined: December 8th, 2009, 11:22 am
Location: Babel
Contact:

Re: How about discussing Free Indirect Discourse?

Post by polymath » May 26th, 2010, 11:00 am

As I understand them presently, the basic differences between;
Direct Discourse: writer/narrator reporting from narrator's perspective.
Indirect Discourse: narrator paraphrasing report of viewpoint character's perspective.
Free Indirect Discourse: viewpoint character reporting personal perspective through narrator's report.

Let's play. Locate Direct, Indirect, or Free, if any, in the sample below. No wrong or right answers, per se, only degrees of reader-viewpoint character closeness (narrative distance) as perceived by any given reader.

   Chenghon bore down on Willem, the towering man's browbeating eyes locked on his. "You are an artless poser. A Westerner hack." Chengon wagged a finger at his face. "Go back home to your blacksmith's forge. Leave sculpture to we who are born to it."
   He wouldn't flinch. "I'll learn what I came to learn. Stick to your own damned business without tearing down mine." He knew he could understand wabi-sabi, even if learning it meant ruining his mind.
Spread the love of written word.

GeeGee55
Posts: 173
Joined: February 19th, 2010, 11:01 pm
Contact:

Re: How about discussing Free Indirect Discourse?

Post by GeeGee55 » May 30th, 2010, 1:10 pm

Well, I have to disagree that there is no right or wrong or what is the point, really?
polymath wrote:
It doesn't feel like playing it feels like a test. However, I will attempt it. Since I am new to this subject, I will not see things that others might. But, how else does one learn?

Let's play. Locate Direct, Indirect, or Free, if any, in the sample below. No wrong or right answers, per se, only degrees of reader-viewpoint character closeness (narrative distance) as perceived by any given reader.

   Chenghon bore down on Willem, the towering man's browbeating eyes locked on his. "You are an artless poser. A Westerner hack." Chengon wagged a finger at his face. "Go back home to your blacksmith's forge. Leave sculpture to we who are born to it." - this all seems to be direct reporting by the narrator to me
   He wouldn't flinch. - now this sentence is tricky, it could be the narrator, therefore, indirect, but it could be going into the character a bit too, his thoughts "I'll learn what I came to learn. Stick to your own damned business without tearing down mine." He knew he could understand wabi-sabi, even if learning it meant ruining his mind. - again, this one is tricky, it almost switches halfway through the sentence from indirect to FID
So, how did I do?

User avatar
J. T. SHEA
Moderator
Posts: 498
Joined: May 20th, 2010, 1:55 pm
Location: IRELAND
Contact:

Re: How about discussing Free Indirect Discourse?

Post by J. T. SHEA » May 30th, 2010, 1:33 pm

The point is to suggest degrees of rightness and wrongness. And tests can be playful. I like Geegee55's analysis up to the last sentence, which I see as all FID.

I knew I could understand FID, even if learning it meant ruining my mind!

Post Reply

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 28 guests