Character & POV
3 min read

A short guide to free indirect style

An illustration of mirror reflections.

What if there was a narrative technique that allowed you to dip in and out of a character's consciousness, blending their voice with that of the narrator's? Sounds like a dream, right? This is precisely the magic of free indirect style.

Free indirect style, or free indirect discourse, is a way of presenting a character's voice and the narrator's voice simultaneously. It's like having a ventriloquist and their dummy on stage: both voices come from the same source.

The perks of free indirect style

One of the most significant benefits of this technique is its ability to reveal character. By blending the character's voice with the narrator's, you can give readers a rich sense of who the character is, how they think, and how they perceive the world.

Additionally, free indirect style can add texture to your narrative. It's like jazz – the melody is there, but the improvisation gives it flavour. It allows for a more nuanced and complex narrative, a dance between the character's subjective experience and the narrator's objective telling.

Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice is a brilliant example of this style. The narration fluidly transitions into Elizabeth Bennet's thoughts and feelings, often without explicit markers.

The challenges of free indirect style

However, free indirect style comes with its share of challenges. The blurring of voices can sometimes lead to confusion. Is it the character's thought or the narrator's observation? It's a delicate balancing act.

Maintaining a consistent voice can also be a challenge. The merging of voices needs to be done skillfully to avoid a discordant narrative.

💡 Read our tips for choosing the right point of view for your novel.

Tips for writing in free indirect style

  1. Choose your character carefully: Free indirect style works best with well-developed, distinctive characters.
  2. Be consistent: Maintain a steady balance between the character's voice and the narrator's. Too much of either can tilt the narrative off-balance.
  3. Practice makes perfect: Free indirect style is a skill, and like any skill, it needs practice. Try it out with different characters and narratives to hone your technique.

A harmony of voices

Mastering free indirect style can seem daunting, but when done right, it can transform your narrative into a symphony of voices, enriching your story and deepening your characters.