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Pup
05-04-2008, 06:06 PM
In a novel, I have a well-educated 19th century main character who uses snippets of memorized poetry in conversation. What's the best way to format and punctuation the dialog?

Tried to search for previous discussions and found this (http://www.absolutewrite.com/forums/showthread.php?p=674598&highlight=format+quotes+poem#post674598)thread, where the general consensus was that there are various options in manuscript form. So I'm trying to figure out the best option in my particular case.

Here's an example, where the slightly drunken MC, a doctor, is coping with the death of his patient and rejection from his girlfriend. It's out of context of course, but picture a self-deprecating, mock-heroic tone.


"What else can you do? Life is brief, love is briefer. 'I hold it true whate'er befall--I feel it when I sorrow most: 'Tis better to have loved and lost, than never to have loved at all.'" That didn't work. I was trying to make a point about medicine. "'Tis better to have tried to heal and failed, than never tried at all."

All those quotes and apostrophes and weird punctuation, mixed with the unspoken thoughts--yuck. How do you format/punctuate it? Maybe indenting the real poem in italics:



"What else can you do? Life is brief, love is briefer.
I hold it true whate'er befall--
I feel it when I sorrow most:
'Tis better to have loved and lost,
Than never to have loved at all."

That didn't work. I was trying to make a point about medicine. "'Tis better to have tried to heal and failed, than never tried at all."

It's still not real clear that there are two sentences of unspoken thoughts in the middle. And in this format, should the last sentence of mock poetry be indented and italicized too?

Is there a better way?

Aargh! And the stupid MC does this more than once. Why'd I ever make him good at memorizing? :)

BlueLucario
05-04-2008, 10:34 PM
Does this doctor talk in a poetic form or is he reciting a poem?

dpaterso
05-04-2008, 10:47 PM
Perhaps a mix of the two might work, plus obliques to separate the quoted lines, e.g. and just for fun's sake:

"What else can you do? Life is brief, love is briefer. I hold it true whate'er befall-- / I feel it when I sorrow most: / 'Tis better to have loved and lost, / than never to have loved at all. That didn't work. I was trying to make a point about medicine. 'Tis better to have tried to heal and failed / than never tried at all."

Is your last sentence a quote, or ordinary dialogue? It seemed as if a rogue double quote had crept in before "'Tis" so I took a guess.

Of course you'd underline in your manuscript, unless your editor accepts italics in document submissions.

-Derek

Phaeal
05-04-2008, 10:54 PM
To me, Version Two is very clear. I like it.

Chasing the Horizon
05-05-2008, 12:05 AM
To me, version one is hard to read and it's not clear whether the poem is being spoken aloud in version two. I like dpatsero's idea of using the slashes (or whatever they're called) to separate the lines, because that's a method you see a lot in song lyrics and poetry.
Something like this:
"What else can you do? Life is brief, love is briefer. 'I hold it true whate'er befall, / I feel it when I sorrow most: / Tis better to have loved and lost / than never to have loved at all'." That didn't work. I was trying to make a point about medicine. " 'Tis better to have tried to heal and failed / than never tried at all."

BarbJ
05-05-2008, 04:33 AM
I think Derek's is clearest, with italics. Your second sample above is also clear, but I wouldn't put the doc's rephrasing in quotes, since he isn't quoting. Italics, yes, if the actual quote is in italics.

For submission, of course. The editor will probably change it to his/her own preference.

Bing Z
05-10-2008, 11:28 AM
What about this:

"What else can you do? Life is brief, love is briefer.
"I hold it true whate'er befall--
"I feel it when I sorrow most:
"'Tis better to have loved and lost,
"Than never to have loved at all."

"That didn't work. I was trying to make a point about medicine.
"'Tis better to have tried to heal and failed,
"than never tried at all."

ishtar'sgate
05-10-2008, 08:59 PM
I kept recitations separate from normal dialogue and used italics. That's easiest for readers when you're submitting the manuscript to agents or publishers. The switch to an underline can easily be done once you've sold the manuscript and are working with an editor. That's when all the bugs are worked out and you're getting it ready for printing.
Linnea