paraphrasing, direct and indirect quotes

A Good Quote

Someone clever once said, that a good quote has the ‘pungency of personal experience’. Most people when interviewed, rarely give a polished quote, and the task of the writer, is to faithfully capture and convey the meaning, and expression of the subject – either through direct or indirect quotations.

Good quotes are the life of any story.  People want to know what was said – and who said it. Quotes give a story authenticity and colour – it is the quickest path to getting a ‘feel’ for the mood, personality and style of the subject being interviewed.

Controlled usage of quotations can also help change the pace of the story to help avoid long tracts of pedestrian prose.

The writer is usually an ‘interpreter’ of quotes – and the challenge is to judiciously strike a balance between paraphrased speech and direct speech.

Direct speech – is where the speech is contained within quotation marks, and is a faithful transcript of the exact words spoken by the subject e.g.

“I ate hotdogs for days. I was too lazy to cook anything else”.

The best times to use direct speech are:

  • when your subject is expressing a strong opinion
  • they have made a bold, descriptive, humorous or figurative statement
  • when your subject is expressing emotion
  • When the subject uses the pronoun ‘I’; and
  • to personalise the story for authenticity.

Indirect speech – is reported, or third-person speech and is paraphrased remarks from what was said directly by the subject e.g.

He said that he was too lazy to cook, so he ate hot dogs for days.

Use indirect speech when:

  • You are giving factual, biographical or statistical information. This can be done far more efficiently through paraphrasing than direct speech
  • You are setting the scene, especially in an introduction to a story, direct quotes are rarely used; and
  • When you are providing background information on the subject.

It’s important to note, that when we use direct speech, the verbs must be used in the same tense as the speaker.  However, when we paraphrase a quote to indirect speech, many verbs change, and, the tense moves to past tense – as a general rule.

While it is much easier to write a direct quote than to paraphrase a quote into indirect speech, too many direct quotes makes for a boring read. The best feature stories have a balanced combination of background information, facts, direct quotes and paraphrasing to add colour, tempo and personality to a story. To this end, the general convention is to never use more than three pars of direct speech in one sequence. The best approach is to always vary the construction between direct and indirect speech.  This is especially pertinent for when the writer needs to break up long statements. Look for ‘natural’ breaks in the speech and use objective transitions between the direct quote and your paraphrasing of sections of the quote.

Lastly, always remember to attribute your subject correctly. Introduce the person’s title and name first before you quote, and thereafter, last name only. When you change speaker, do the same, so the reader has a clear orientation of who said what.

Till next time,

WordSmith Jo

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