Here’s a bit from Stacey D’Erasmo’s novel A Seahorse Year – a good example of free indirect style, but not why I’m quoting it at length. Marina is a painter working on an oil canvas of a tree:
…Marina is only thirty-eight, but her hair has been silver since she was twenty-five. She would no more have bothered to dye it than she would have bothered to iron a wrinkled shirt or mend a sweater with a hole. She has always preferred a life of casual accretion. In fact, she believes in it, almost as an ars poetica: what accretes naturally always turns out to be exactly what’s needed. Painting should be like riding a bike with no hands, a mixture of velocity and trust.
For instance, this tree she’s been making for the last seven years: it hasn’t been well received, but she has persevered for reasons she can’t quite explain. She’s made the tree big; she’s made the tree small; she’s made the tree in oil, watercolor, gouache, collage, tinfoil, Polaroid, and acrylic; she’s repeated identical trees in suspiciously regular rows on a single canvas; once she made an entire forest of trees from fabric remnants. This is a tree in oil, dense and telegraphic. She might have to scrape it off after all. There’s another tree, a tree she can see clearly in her mind’s eye, that will not fail, as this one suddenly seems in imminent danger of doing. The tree at this point has become fairly representational, close to the tree she drew over and over again when she was ten. It’s a leafy, spreading, eastern sort of tree that seems quite specific, though if one were to look at it more closely, one would see that it isn’t actually any particular organic species at all. Its branches bend strangely; its leaves are an uncanny shape. There are suggestions of faces in the bark. When she first drew it as a child in Los Angeles, it was a tree she had never seen, except in a dream. In the dream, it was the most beautiful tree in the world. She woke up needing to draw it. That was all she knew. In many ways, she thinks it may be all she still knows. She begins on another branch, with guarded hope.
If I were in a sourish mood, I might make some sort of comment about not seeing the forest for the trees, but in fact this passage expresses pretty much what writing feels like to me. With guarded hope…
(I do, however, mend the holes in my jumpers – eventually. But I wouldn’t iron a T-shirt or jeans, my usual attire, for any reason on earth. Not even for a perfect tree.)