Long quotations within your text

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A reader writes to ask:

Is there a guideline for when you want to include the text of some other text within your story? I'm thinking of something like Barry Malzberg's Herovit's World where parts of the novel were actually exerpts from the main character's novel that he was writing. In print these show up in a different font from the main text. How would this be done in manuscript? Would it be like a block quote? Or something different?

A very interesting question, and one that applies equally to fiction and narrative non-fiction. The material quoted in your work could be excerpts from a character's novel-in-progress, as you indicated, or could include such items as personal letters, diary entries, newspaper articles, or any other large chunk of text that your characters might read or write.

I wasn't positive of my answer right off the bat, so I polled a panel of three expert copy editors and/or book designers. The responses I got back differed in some details and caveats, but the basic meat of their answers was the same:

Block-indent the quoted passages.

Block indentation means to indent an entire passage one half-inch from the left margin. Within the indented passage, you still indent the first line of each paragraph that additional half-inch. Leave the right margin as-is, and center the # character on its own line before and after the quoted passage to indicate line spaces.

Here's an example:

While she was in the kitchen preparing our drinks, I wandered around the living room examining the tchotchkes and knickknacks.  My eye fell on a small, vinyl-bound diary on the coffee table.  It had a lock, but the lock was unlatched.

With a quick glance at the kitchen door, I snatched up the diary.  It fell open to the last page Suzette had written on.  In blue ink, it said:

#

Of course I'm really nervous about this date tonight.  I like Richard, he's exciting, but I'm still not sure I trust him.  He gets that skeevy kind of look in his eye sometimes when we're talking at the copy machine.

Hey, I just had a wicked idea.  I think I'll put a hair here between the pages and leave the diary out when Richard comes over.  Then I'll know for sure how skeevy he is.

#

The diary grew slippery in my grip.  There was no hair between the pages.

Heart pounding, I crouched down to see if I could spot one on the black surface of the coffee table.

It's fine for the block-indented passage to run several pages.

If you'd like the quoted passage to appear in print in a different font from the main text, that's probably something to take up with the editor once your manuscript has been accepted for publication and is going into production. "But," as one of my correspondents says, "the important thing is to communicate one's wishes with sufficient clarity as to eliminate any possibility of misunderstanding."

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Comments (3)

Is the block quote used for Epigraphs, too?

If by "epigraph" you mean a quotation at the beginning of a manuscript (or the beginning of a section or chapter), those are usually block-indented half an inch from both the left and right margins, and single-spaced.

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