Articles / On Dialogue

Direct and Indirect Narrative


The difference between direct and indirect narrative is pretty straightforward. Direct narrative is basically describing everything in a scene, including all the action and detail. For example, say you’re writing a scene about pitcher throwing the winning strike in the game. Direct narrative allows you to describe everything from what the pitcher is feeling and  seeing to how he pitches the ball, the crowds reaction, and how green the grass on the field is.

Indirect narrative is the opposite. It doesn’t describe all the details or the action, instead it’s used as point A to point B in terms of moving a scene along. For example, take the same baseball analogy I used with direct narrative. Indirect narrative would only call for the pitcher to throw a strike, causing the batter to strike out. No emphasis is placed on how the ball was thrown or what the batter felt like, the scene is only significant to propel it to the next scene.

Either one of these narratives are used in any novel or manuscript. Oftentimes when writers are in draft mode of their manuscript, indirect narrative is more useful. You simply can write and write, getting the bulk of your story down. Once you go back over your rough draft, this is where direct narrative can really come into play. A writer is able to delve into more detail, research more thoroughly, and build scenes more brilliantly the second time around. Or the third. Or the fourth.

Another difference between direct and indirect narrative doesn’t have to involve just actions in a scene but what the character thinks as the actions take place. Emma Darwin explains it well with her article, “Free Indirect Style: what it is and how to use it,” from her website, This Itch of Writing. Take for instance this example of direct narrative:

Bob lived twenty blocks away from Sue. It’s so far, he thought to himself. Taking a cab is so expensive, but he said heck with it and hailed a cab. 


Bob lived twenty blocks away from Sue. “It’s so far,” he said. Taking a cab is so expensive. As he hailed a cab, he said, “Heck with it!” 

The direction in the narrative is in the first example, while the direction is in the dialogue in the second. Either style is fine and acceptable to you. But knowing the distinction can be helpful for your craft.

How do you use direct and indirect narrative?


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