1. SwampDog
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    SwampDog Contributing Member

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    Indirect thoughts/authorial intrusions

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by SwampDog, Dec 29, 2014.

    If I read a novel and there's something minor in its style/construction/phraseology/whatever that I don't understand, then I'm willing to gloss over it and continue. Perhaps we all do that.

    Recently, in an effort to study the craft far more, I've read and re-read portions, particularly opening chapters. Longer paragraphs of indirect thoughts have sometimes presented a problem, and I've been baffled through sheer quantity as to whether it is indirect thought after all, or the author/narrator is just supplying information. May be I'm over-reading stuff and the answer is obvious. Most likely.

    With the briefest of examples: Fred glanced at his watch. Sue was long overdue. Where the hell could she be?

    The red text is indirect thought. But... often I've looked at that from a different angle, especially with a lot of thoughts and other material in the same paragraph. Fred looks at his watch. The narrator nudges me to tell me that Sue is overdue. That is the reason for Fred glancing at his watch and subsequent indirect thoughts.

    My original post in the Italics for thoughts? thread sought to address that. A simple example is fairly evident, but with much longer paragraphs and other material thrown in, I didn't always find it so. Am I reading things that aren't there? Can there be any doubt (as it's in the same paragraph?)

    Cheers
     
  2. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    Fred glanced at his watch. Sue was long overdue. Where the hell could she be?

    In this particular example, for me, the second sentence is clearly Fred's inner thought, as much as the third sentence is his inner dialogue. All three are so logically sequitur, one to the next, that I don't see this as narrative intrusion, and if you've read any of my critiques, you'll know that narrative intrusion is something I pounce on.
     
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  3. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    I read the second sentence as narrative, just as the first, but where the narrator is providing the content of Fred's though just like any other part of the story. I read the third sentence as a direct thought.

    @Wreybies why don't you like authorial intrusion? I come across it quite a bit and don't mind it if handled well. Some authors are clumsy about it. I am currently reading James Herbert's Creed (and if it matters, he was a best-selling author; now deceased). It opens thusly:

     
  4. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    I don't dislike it. Hitchhikers's Guide couldn't exist without it, and the same for most metafiction. My mention is purely in its clumsy, accidental mode, which is something rather other than your example. When the writer has not purposefully employed the tool and becomes simply a director inadvertently standing in front of the camera, all the actors waiting nervously for him/her to step back and let the scene progress, that's what I'm talking about. The example you give is a classic device, I would say almost a pastiche to turn-of-the-century style. What I am talking about are errors of narrative logic where the writer is simply intruding into the scene without it being a purposeful pass, which is why I say narrative intrusion, not authorial intrusion. M. John Harrison, in his book Light, opens a couple of chapters with "What happened next, was this:" and it works rather well in his style and in this book. :) But these are very purposefully crafted little collections of words.
     
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  5. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    Thanks for expanding on that @Wreybies. I agree with you.

    And Light is really an excellent book. I need to read the rest of them. Vonnegut also uses such intrusions.
     
  6. obsidian_cicatrix
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    obsidian_cicatrix I ink, therefore I am. Contributor

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    Ahem! :oops: Guilty, M'Lud.
     
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  7. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    @Wreybies interestingly, the book I mentioned above continues with a degree of intrusion. I've just reached the middle and the author makes a chapter break at an important moment. Starting the new chapter, he writes :

    "You've just suffered a dramatic pause.

    "This was to emphasise that dreadful heart-stopping second or so before Creed pressed the shutter release without knowing whether or not the water had ruined his equipment. "

    An interesting approach. So far, the book has been enjoyable.
     
  8. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    I have no doubt. I'm not clear on where your doubt comes from.
     
  9. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    I think sometimes we over-analyse this kind of thing. I had no trouble at all with the three short sentences @SwampDog used to illustrate his point. However, I do think the final sentence, not the middle one, is an example of indirect thought.


    Direct thought would be: Fred glanced at his watch. She's late ...where the hell is she?

    Indirect thought: Fred glanced at his watch. Sue was long overdue. Where the hell could she be? These first two sentences are both narrative exposition, and aren't really different from each other in that regard. The author tells us that Fred has glanced at his watch, and that Sue is overdue. It's the 'where the hell could she be' that's the indirect thought, isn't it?

    Narrative exposition: Fred glanced at his watch. Sue was long overdue, and he wondered where she could be. It's 'the hell' that would make this an indirect thought. It would be left out of simple narration. 'The hell' is an illustration of the form Fred's thought has taken, even though Fred isn't actually speaking to anybody, and we don't get his exact wording, as we do in the first example of direct thought.


    That's my take on the situation, anyway.
     
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  10. SwampDog
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    SwampDog Contributing Member

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    The second sentence - Sue was long overdue. Is that narrative exposition? Or should it be read as thought in view of the sentence that follows? Or if it is thought, should it be, Sue is (as opposed to Sue was) long overdue?

    As I highlighted in my OP, I can read that second sentence as it stands two different ways. That's where I'm unsure as to how it should be read - exposition or thought.
     
  11. lustrousonion
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    lustrousonion Contributing Member

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    "Fred glanced at his watch. Sue was long overdue. Where the hell could she be?"

    What I see here is actually a pretty elegant way of avoiding indirect speech/thoughts. If it was indirect, you would need some sort of verb like "thought" or "pondered" thrown in there. But as the last sentences is clearly Fred's thought, the middle sentence acts as a sort of nice buffer between the other two.

    Can anyone who disagrees provide links? I love to learn about stuff like this and don't mind being proven wrong.
     
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  12. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    My take is that it's narrative exposition, unless Fred just thought Sue was late.

    If Sue was only slightly late—say three minutes or so—that would change things a bit. This is totally taken out of context, so as readers we don't know for sure how late she actually is. If she was supposed to have turned up at 8pm, and it's now 5 minutes to 9 and no Sue, she actually IS long overdue—regardless of how Fred thinks about it. The author is just making this fact clear to the reader in narrative form. However, the context could change it. If Fred is simply impatient and thinks ANY delay means she's 'long overdue' then it's an indirect thought.

    In either case, I don't think it matters. It reads just fine as it is.
     
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  13. plothog
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    plothog Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    I view indirect thoughts as sentences that imply thoughts, but don't quite give that thought word for word, normally because it's been shifted into past tense.

    Here is an article about "free indirect style" that I found helpful in understanding this concept.

    http://emmadarwin.typepad.com/thisitchofwriting/2013/09/free-indirect-style-what-it-is-and-how-to-use-it.html
     
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  14. SwampDog
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    SwampDog Contributing Member

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    Thanks for the input. I'll have time to reflect on that over the next fortnight.

    Cheers
     
  15. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    Thanks for posting that interesting and very complete article on the subject.

    I notice she mentioned Wolf Hall as an example of extensive use of indirect thoughts. However, many people, including myself, found that book an extremely difficult read. I found it so difficult to follow that I got exasperated and quit partway through. One other friend of mine who persevered to the end, said she'd not bother reading any other Hilary Mantel books.

    So while you might win literary prizes doing experimental stuff with your prose, you may also alienate readers.

    I'd say write your scenes the way you think they should go, then get a few beta readers to read your story. Give them enough of it so the context is clear. If they struggle to keep things straight, you might want to insert a few markers to keep them on track. If they breeze through and don't get confused, you're probably fine. If you can develop a natural flow as you write, and don't stop to analyse everything while the work is in progress, you'll probably come out winning. If not, a few tweaks during the editing process should do the trick.
     
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  16. lustrousonion
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    lustrousonion Contributing Member

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    I think you've found a great article that explains both. Thanks a lot.

    Indirect thought does use a reported speech/thought verb, free indirect thought implies it with a tense shift. I like it.
     
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