Who’s talking?

In fiction, especially, your critical work often requires that you identify who is speaking and to label that.  Your classes will have given you some standard labels, not all of which will agree with each other from one class to another.  However, ‘first person narration’: ” I guess he’s drunk” doesn’t usually give us too many problems, partly because of the inclusion of ‘I.’  And most of us can identify when there is a ‘third person narrator’ because someone is describing someone else: ‘John slowly rose from the ground.”  However, a slightly more subtle thing happens when we have a third person voice looking both from the outside and the inside: “He looked at his wife. Yes, she was tiresomely unhappy again, almost sick. What the hell should he say?”  This is an example from James Wood’s book, How Fiction Works.  And he and many others call this “free indirect style,” something that has been around for a long time.

Using this designation requires some practice, but you will likely find it helpful when you are trying to describe some narration that seems to be both outside the person described as well as inside her head.

To get a little more help with this you might take a look at the Wikipedia entry on it.

Unlike in your scientific studies, there is no guarantee that everyone agrees about the many species of narration, but you may find adding in this label to your descriptions of narration will help you out.

 

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