Are you good at cracking jokes? Have people applauded your narrative skill? Cracking a joke means performing it. If a joke is cracked well, it really amuses the audience. It connects the joke cracker with the audience. Narrating a story, anecdote or incident, like cracking jokes, is an art. Good communicators possess this skill. Great narrators do not just tell the audience what happened but show them what occurred.
Two years ago I gave each student in my class a worksheet with this:
Read the passage below and convert it into reported speech:
A man called William died and went to purgatory, the place where the spirits of dead people are believed to go before they are able to go to heaven. St Peter smiled at the man and said, “Now William, you have done some good things, and you have done some bad things. Now I am going to let you decide where you want to go.” First St Peter showed William an image of Hell with beautiful women running on beaches. Then St Peter showed William an image of Heaven with robed angels playing harps on clouds. William chose Hell. About a week later St Peter checked in on William in Hell and found him being whipped by demons. William said to St Peter, “What happened to all the beautiful women and the beaches?” St Peter replied, “That was just the screen saver.”
A bright student in the group threw this at me, “Sir, it is a well-written joke. It sounds natural because of the exchanges in direct speech. Why do you want us to kill its charm and make it artificial by converting it into reported speech?” What a great observation! I couldn’t agree more. I did appreciate the student for his observation and said, “I agree with you. If the joke is rewritten in reported speech, it will certainly lose its charm.”
Direct speech refers to the quoted words of a character given by the narrator. It is an attempt to represent exactly what a character says. Good storytellers know how to narrate a story in a lively and engaging manner. They use more direct speech than indirect speech in their narratives. Almost all great novelists use direct speech as a stylistic device to give a live portrayal of the characters in their stories.
Why direct speech? Conversational style is natural communication. If arguments, quarrels and different moments of action are presented in direct speech, they provide excitement, tension, and amusement. As each character speaks differently, it is important to let the audience know what and how the characters spoke in different situations. It helps in the portrayal of the characters. Direct speech reveals the tone and mood. Indirect speech, if it is not used properly, creates a distance between the utterance and the reader’s perception of it. It is less immediate than direct speech.
The major reason most of us use indirect speech while narrating an incident or telling a story could be over-exposure to mechanical exercises in turning direct speech into indirect speech.
When many characters are involved in a story and when there are conversations between two or among several characters, it is always good to use direct speech.
Is an ELT resource person and associate professor at KCG College of Technology, Chennai