Two (more) Uses for the Indirect Quote

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March 13, 2018 by bradcharlesbeals

To speak or not to speak — that is the question. 

Last week I looked at the indirect quote as a way to provide rest from tension within a longer passage of dialogue. This week I’ll look at two other uses for the lowly indirect quotation (IQ).


Bow to your narrator.

Sometimes a passage of dialogue works better in narration than in direct quotation. For example, strong, active-voiced narration will naturally want to take control of directly quoted material (and it’s good that you let a strong narrator do that every once in a while). In writing the following passage, IQ allowed me to cut free from the syncopated rhythm of human conversation and to narrate in a few lines an otherwise much longer and unnecessary dialogue:  

“Bill and Daniel together then described Louisa, Clay, the clothes they might be wearing, the horses they left on. They said that the boy was a killer and a thief, that he had it in mind to go to New Orleans by way of the Tennessee and Mississippi. They said he was missing his right thumb. They said Louisa was expert at anything horse related, and that she rode with a catch rope at her hip. Daniel added details that no one was likely to pick up on, that she wrote left-handed, that she had scars on both knees and that her ears would go red when she got angry or when she laughed…”


Land it softly.

This last strategy is similar to the one I discussed last week, though the purpose of this relaxation of tension is more than just a break. It’s a landing, a final stop. Here, the prose of an indirect quote can provide (when you think you need it) a softer conclusion…

…to a conversation:

“After a minute of riding, Effram repeated the question, and John Roy gave what he thought was a better answer. He said that Macbeth was the story of choosing Hell and then trying to stay out of it.”

…to a chapter:

“…But before either slept, they both watched the northern lights dancing green in the cold, clear sky above them. Daniel said that he had never seen the lights during a full moon. Bill concurred, but then added that he couldn’t help but see it as some strange omen that revealed nothing in the way of portent. Blessing or curse toward them, he could not say.”


The more I write, the more value I find in the indirect quote. It’s a close-at-hand tool, it’s easy to use, and because placing it is a matter of rhythm, it’s adaptable to my own sensibilities.

So when deciding for our fictional characters whether to speak or not to speak, the answer can be both.


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