As I have been recently reading the books and short stories that comprise Eric Flint's 1632/Ring of Fire series, I have noticed a narrative style that I have not seen before.

These books are written with omniscient third-person narrator, but unlike a traditional narrator that maintains a consistent style and tone throughout the work, the narrator will change style to be similar to the characters that are in a given scene or chapter. This style change can be seen in details like word choice, complexity of sentence structure, formality/informality, profanity, and what figurative language is chosen.

This is not an unpleasant technique once one gets used to it, but I do not recall seeing it in other fiction, either classic or contemporary. Is there a descriptive term or phrase for this style?

  • See Wikipedia on third-person voices. – Gareth Rees Nov 7 at 16:21
  • @Gareth Interestingly, while that Wikipedia article is an extensive list, what I am describing seems like a mixture not specifically described there. It bears some resemblance to third-person alternating, but not alternating between omniscient and limited, or between one specific (named) third person and another. Rather it gives the impression of a single omniscient third person, outside of the story, who changes tone depending on what he is talking about. Even more intriguingly, this seems like a conscious choice since some of the books in the series are by other authors who adopt this style. – Mike Nov 7 at 17:26
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    Could you add a few short quotes that illustrate the differences you mentioned. – Christophe Strobbe Nov 7 at 20:14

I think you might be looking for the term "free indirect speech" in which the narration directly includes character thoughts and perspectives. Because the narrator is directly reporting the characters' thoughts like this, when the focus is on different characters, the narration tone and style can change as well. Some good examples of free indirect speech are Mrs. Dalloway, Ulysses, and Pride and Prejudice.

Credit where credit it due, I only know this from lurking on the Writing Stack Exchange site as well, and remembering this answer.

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