What Is Direct Speech?

Daniel Liden

Direct speech is a method of writing used to represent the speech of characters or people by directly quoting their words. In general, a sentence with direct speech identifies the speaker and includes the spoken words in quotes. For example, the sentence, "The man said, 'Tomorrow, I plan to go to the mall,'" directly quotes what the man said. In indirect speech, on the other hand, the meaning of the speech is represented, but the exact words are not given in quotes. "The man says that he plans to go to the mall tomorrow" is an example of indirect speech.

Direct speech tells a reader that the writer is presenting the exact words used by the speaker.
Direct speech tells a reader that the writer is presenting the exact words used by the speaker.

A writer may want to use direct speech for a variety of different reasons. The use of direct speech tells the reader that the writer is not presenting an interpretation of someone's speech but is, rather, presenting the exact words used by the speaker. It also distances the reader from the writer somewhat, as the reader gets to interpret the exact words of the speaker without feeling as though the writer is acting as a mediator between the character and the reader. These allow the reader to suspend disbelief somewhat in fictional works. Direct quotation is also quite common in nonfiction, as it helps to ensure that the writer does not accidentally misrepresent the speech or meaning of a real person.

Direct speech includes spoken words in quotes.
Direct speech includes spoken words in quotes.

There are also plenty of reasons for a writer to avoid the use of direct speech in some situations. The specific words used in a given statement or conversation are not always important, and representing speech in an indirect manner is often more efficient. In other cases, the writer wants to remind the reader of his mediating presence, often for artistic purposes. Writers of literature and poetry must often consider the rhythm and flow of their writing. The use of quotes and line breaks in direct speech tends to result in a comparatively rough rhythm, so some writers use indirect speech when a smooth rhythm is necessary.

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In many cases, direct speech is also used to represent characters' thoughts. This method suggests that the writer is quoting the flow of a character's thoughts verbatim. A wide range of other methods is also used, including normal indirect speech methods, italicizing the characters' thoughts, or simply indicating the general subject of the thoughts. Direct speech for thought representation suggests to readers that the narrator has the power and vision to see clearly and directly into the minds of the characters.

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