I'm peer-reviewing/editing a paper for a final in my English course and in it, the author has a character singing a song (of the author's creation). The character is singing in dialogue, like so:

"It's time to stand up and be a man/Be the husband that you told her you were gonna be/Forever/But I can't see what's wrong with you/You've got a wife, a hot one too/If you keep this up you won't end up together"

The problem I'm having is I'm not sure if the slash should be in the dialogue. At the same time, I don't know what she could put in that gets across the same meaning. Ellipsis? Commas? Write it in sentence form with correct punctuation and say that the character sang the words?

Also, I don't like that there's no spaces between a word and the slash, but I don't know if that's necessarily something "wrong" or if it's something I just don't like. But to be fair, I don't like the slashes because I think they make the dialogue hard to read. The previous editor removed the punctuation in this part of her writing, but left the slashes in. I'm not sure if this editor also removed the spaces around the slashes or if it was always like that. However, I feel like punctuation would make this altogether way more easy to read.

There is a point in the text where the same song is playing on the radio and the narration has the lyrics, centered and italicized. Like so:

But I can't see what's wrong with you

You've got a wife, a hot one too

If you keep on looking you won't end up together

And I think this works even though nothing ends with punctuation. The author said the previous editor removed the slashes and the punctuation from the narration lyrics. I'm inclined to believe that removing the slashes was the right move (it matches up with the MLA guide for citing poetry) but I'm not particularly sure about leaving the italics or the punctuation removal.

To clarify, we aren't using the MLA format. Even if we were using that format, more than three lines would be made into a block and wouldn't be in one line, in the case of the first example. Also she just flat out made up the song that she's using (I'm not using her lyrics), so it's not like she needs to follow the guidelines for citing poetry. The other editor didn't actually leave notes as to why he or she made the changes they did make, so I'm not sure if they're following some standard I'm not aware of or if they just made stuff up or what.

I want to remove the slashes and make the song into a block in the dialogue and I want to put punctuation in the blocks. But I don't want to "correct" her if she's already correct or if it's just stylistic choice. I tried looking this up, but I don't really get very much information, just stuff on MLA or APA format. Is there a standard for dealing with lyrics in dialogue and narration in creative writing?

The song I used was Is She Not Hot Enough? from American Dad. Sorry, it's just stuck in my head right now.

  • 3
    I can't say for definite but whenever I've encountered lyrics in a narrative they've been italicised, centre aligned and separated from the surrounding text. Of course, if a person were singing, then I would assume that dialogue formatting would take precedent. This is only anecdotal though.
    – CLockeWork
    Commented May 1, 2014 at 8:09
  • I'd agree with you there, @CLockeWork. In Roald Dahl's work, he used to do that all the time when he put songs into the narrative, but I've never seen him do just one or two lines in dialogue. Generally speaking though, most of what I read doesn't have songs or song lyrics featured in the work itself and it seems like most resources don't even touch on the subject. Maybe I shouldn't be putting so much focus on the other editor's changes... but they're just so weird I can't help thinking there's something I don't know that they did.
    – Ice-9
    Commented May 2, 2014 at 13:39
  • As a note @Ice-9, this was also done by Tolkien. Commented Jun 18, 2020 at 17:17

4 Answers 4


According to Chicago, poetry or verse (which lyrics are), of more than two lines should be in block quotes. A blockquote is indented either left or right and can be further set off by being a smaller or different font. As to whether it should be italics, Chicago doesn't require it. That would seem to be a stylistic choice and, as long it is done consistently, probably the decision could be left to the author.

Note that if some of the lines of the lyrics are long, they should be bumped down to the next line and indented one em from the line above.

Slashes are only used if the verse is two lines or less so it was quite correct to remove them. When they are used, there is a space to each side of them.

Poetry (and really, what are songs but sung poetry?) can be punctuated or unpunctuated, but the removal of the punctuation is a stylistic choice, not a necessary one. I've read quite a bit of poetry that was punctuated normally. And then I've read E. E. Cummings. Since the author chose to punctuate the lyrics, I would leave the punctuation in.

  • +1 This is how Tolkien did it (or, at least, how I've seen it done in several different editions of his books). They're not always centered, but they're always differently indented and often using italics and/or a different font.
    – xDaizu
    Commented Feb 14, 2018 at 8:01

I found this at the Online Writing Lab concerning quoting poetry (emphasis added):

If the quotation is three lines or longer, set it off like a block quotation (see above). Some writers prefer to set off two-line verse quotations for emphasis. Quote the poem line by line as it appears on the original page. Do not use quotation marks, and indent one inch from the left margin.

In his poem 'Mending Wall,' Robert Frost questions the building of barriers and walls:

Before I built a wall I'd ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out,
And to whom I was like to give offense.

I know this is more for an essay-type of format rather than dialogue or narration, but I agree that having slashes in dialogue doesn't seem right. I regularly use Purdue University's Online Writing Lab for little problems like this.

  • 1
    While this confirms the original poster's view that block quotes should be used and addresses the punctuation changes, it does not address the removal of italics. If italics were used to further distinguish the song from the narrative (as used to distinguish thought from narrative), then block quotation would seem to remove the need for them; if italics were part of the poem/song text (e.g., to distinguish speakers or vocal style such as soft voice), then presumably the "original page" would use italics and they should be kept. Italics might also intend the softness of background music.
    – user5232
    Commented Oct 14, 2014 at 15:36

When incorporating lyrics into an essay, put the lyrics inside quotation marks. Short quotations can be integrated into a sentence, such as, “In the song ‘Stairway to Heaven,’ the Led Zeppelin sing…” followed by the lyrics in quotation marks. Long quotations, or those that are four lines or longer, need to be set off in a block quote, where you indent the entire quote from the paragraph above it.

To cite the lyrics in Modern Language Association format, write the artists’ name in parentheses, such as (Led Zeppelin), followed by the ending punctuation. To cite in American Psychological Association format, include the artist, copyright date and track number in parentheses, such as (Led Zeppelin, 1971, track 1). Note the comma between the artist and year and between the year and track number.

Include the details of the recording in your works cited or references page. In MLA format, include the artist’s name, song title, album name, name of the recording manufacturer, publication date and the sound recording medium, for example: The Beatles. “Coda” Coda: The U. S. Album (italicized). Capitol, 1982. CD.

Citing this recording in APA style is slightly different, so follow the example: Led Zeppelin. (2014). Coda. On Coda: The U. S. Album (italicize the album name) [CD]. Los Angeles: Capitol (Recorded 1982).

You also probably should consider checking out some info on trusted resourses For example check this one.


I would like to remind people that this is a work of fiction, so MLA or most style guides are not appropriate. There are some publication house style guides available, but not always. While these make great references, they are not widely accepted standards.

I agree with you regarding spaces, but I would not remove the slashes unless moving it to block. Ellipses over and over would not work and commas would not fit well with their usual use. Removing them would change the cadence of the lyrics and this author has taken the time to ensure the lyrics fit a beat.

I personally like the block quote for lyrics, a la 1984. However, when available, I would ask the author why they made that decision (an option I usually had in editing class, and sometime proofreading class, though you may not). Sometimes writing is more than just the words, but a visual. A block quote places a large amount of importance to the words. This can be good if you want the message to be picked up by the reader immediately, but the author may be trying to plant a seed that's not meant to grow in the reader's mind yet, and may need the lyrics to be visually underwhelming. Of course, the copy in front of you should offer clues to that intent, especially if you have the entire piece.

It is not the rule, but I would like to share something my editing teacher used to share with us: he told us writing rules are often and can be broken for effect, the way it makes the reader process the information. Of course, we would then ask why all of our pieces had to be grammatically correct. He would reply "all of you have only been granted your learners' permits. In order to break the rules, you must know them [and their effects] well." Allow the breaks when they are intentional.

  • It's an academic paper though, so academic standards should apply. And it is not completely clear whether it is pure fiction or not.
    – Weckar E.
    Commented Mar 4, 2020 at 17:14

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