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Free Indirect Style

Free indirect style, speech, or discourse, is a type of third-person narrative perspective that includes the thoughts of a character while maintaining the narrator’s control over the story.

The author can delve into the character’s mind, convey their thoughts and even their thought patterns for the reader. This makes the characters more realistic and helps readers make sense of their actions. They can combine the detached third-person style along with the best parts of first-person narratives. 

Free Indirect Style Literary Definition and Examples

Free Indirect Style Definition

Free indirect style is also sometimes known as free indirect discourse or speech. This is a style of third-person narration that can be found through literature.

There are interesting examples in novels, short stories, and even long poems. These examples are written in third-person. But, on occasion, the author looks into a character’s mind and conveys their thoughts in their own voice.

In an example, a reader might find that the narrator uses words that suit the dialect of the person into whose thoughts they’re looking. Jane Austen was one of the first known practitioners of the style, and two examples from her novels can be seen below. 

Writers make a choice to use this style of narration when they feel it’s important for the reader to get inside a character’s head. For example, if a character is going through a crisis, losing their mind, or is terribly afraid of something. It makes the characters feel far more real than if the author stuck to “she said” and “he said” statements. 

Examples of Free Indirect Style 

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen 

Austen’s use of free indirect discourse in Pride and Prejudice is commonly cited as an early example of the technique. It occurs when the author allows Elizabeth’s thoughts and feelings to come through to the reader in an interesting way. For example, Elizabeth might comment on something through the role of a narrator. It will seem for a moment that the novel is written in the first person, tinged with the main character’s thoughts and beliefs. For example, this quote from Chapter 16

Elizabeth allowed that he had given a very rational account of it, and they continued talking together, with mutual satisfaction till supper put an end to cards, and gave the rest of the ladies their share of Mr. Wickham’s attentions. There could be no conversation in the noise of Mrs. Phillips’s supper party, but his manners recommended him to everybody. Whatever he said, was said well; and whatever he did, done gracefully. Elizabeth went away with her head full of him. 

Here, it’s clear that it’s Elizabeth talking when she says that “his manners recommended him to everybody.” 

Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen 

Sense and Sensibility were published anonymously in three volumes in 1811. The novel is set in London and Sussex between 1792 and 1797. It follows the Dashwood sisters, Elinor and Marianne (as well as their mother, younger sister, and brother) as they move away from the home they’ve known all their lives and into a cottage owned by Sir John Middleton. Here is an example of Austen’s use of free indirect style in Chapter 16. 

Marianne would have thought herself very inexcusable had she been able at all to sleep the first night after parting from Willoughby.

She would have been ashamed to look her family in the face the next morning, had she not risen from her bed in more need of repose than when she lay down in it.

This example helps readers understand more about Marianne’s thoughts as a young woman dealing with troubled love. 

Explore Jane Austen’s poetry and Austen’s best books.

Under the Dome by Stephen King

Stephen King is a great example of a skilled contemporary writer who uses free indirect style in an effective way. Throughout the book, King flits between the perspectives of a wide variety of characters. One of the most important is the antagonist of the story, Big Jim. Below is an example of how King weaves in a character’s perspective along with the narrative voice:

Big Jim also did not ask Who did you sleep with? He had other concerns than whom his son might be diddling; he was just glad the boy hadn’t been among the fellows who’d done their business with that nasty piece of trailer trash out of Motton Road. Doing business with that sort of girl was a good way to catch something and get sick.

He’s already sick, a voice in Big Jim’s head whispered. It might have been the fading voice of his wife. Just look at him.

In this passage, Big Jim is thinking about Junior Rennie and why he looks so strange. In this example, readers have access to the character’s thoughts through the voice of the narrator. There is another example of this technique, in regard to the same character, at the end of the novel when he’s about to die. 


What is an indirect writing style?

Indirect writing style refers to how the author includes a character’s thoughts and personality in their narration. Temporarily, the narrator will allow the character’s personality to bleed into how they describe a scene.

How do you identify free indirect speech?

The easiest way to identify when this style of speech is being used is when it appears the character is speaking or thinking without the use of “he said” or “she said” as an introductory expression. 

What is focalization in literature?

Focalization occurs when the author presents a scene through the subjective view of a character. Their perceptions are going to change the narrative and how the reader perceives something. 

Related Literary Terms 

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