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Supposing a character or characters are watching a show on TV (news maybe) how should that be formatted in the text?

I've found some explanations on how to format TV broadcasts in a screenplay (in this website) but not how to do it for prose in a book.

Some explanations I've found around say to use block quotes for news paper articles. That seems like a start but there are some other things I'm not sure on. Like how are dialogue tags used for people speaking on TV? Or should a TV broadcast be treated differently than newspaper quotes?

I've done some searching but there isn't a whole lot of advice. A lot of people are saying formatting is often up to the publisher.

A similar question is How to format news, poems, text messages, and other kinds of written text? but how to format TV dialogue wasn't answered there.

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  • Let's clarify - you have a fiction book (not a screenplay etc.) with a scene featuring a TV broadcast, and you are asking what is the best way to write this scene?
    – Alexander
    Commented Jan 18, 2019 at 21:58
  • Mostly how to format it which might also change how it's written (dialogue tags, etc. maybe). Yes, for a scene in a fiction story or book. Some formatting might come down to opinion but I was wondering if there is a standard recognizable style/method. Commented Jan 19, 2019 at 1:23

3 Answers 3

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I see it as if you were reporting the dialogue between a couple of people sitting a table over from you in a public place.

If you want the words, write it as dialogue. Quote it normally and attribute it however works.

Angela turned on the TV and flipped channels to the news.

"An explosion rocked Central City today," said a red-haired anchorwoman. "No reports of causalities yet but a ping pong factory was completely destroyed."

The narrator can also comment on it.

She glanced up at the screen. The weather guy was gone and now the red-haired anchor was back, droning on about the government shutdown.

If it's a very long quote though, then setting it aside like you would a song might make sense.

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    I was thinking of a dialogue between a host and guest in a TV show. I see what you're suggesting. To use context to show who's speaking and treat dialogue on TV just like regular dialogue with regular denotations. It's so simple I don't know why I didn't think of it. Thank you. I think I've even seen it done that way before too. So I think this is probably the way to go. Commented Jan 19, 2019 at 1:31
  • I see it as if you were reporting the dialogue between a couple of people sitting a table over from you in a public place.
    – Cyn
    Commented Jan 19, 2019 at 1:36
  • That makes perfect sense. Commented Jan 19, 2019 at 1:39
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I just wanted to know how to format speech from a radio, TV, iPhone etc. in a literary novel, and the above answer while interesting was not what I was looking for, which was how to handle words coming from back in time. After researching in the Chicago Manual of Style, I found that there is some latitude but there is also a convention of distinguishing the immediate spoken word from thoughts, quotations and other kinds of words from the past.

  1. If the speech is spoken speech by a sentient human being, robot or android in the scene, put it in double quotes.

Martina's voice came over the walkie talkie, "We are at the bridge."

  1. If the speech is pre-recorded, make it italic.

The iPhone played: Thank you for listening to the Great Courses presentation of The Aeneid.

  1. If you want to show a TV script interaction, you can simply use dialog style prompting but using italics instead of quotation marks.

On TV, the family was stuck in the barn.

Homer: I can't open the door!

Bart's head poked out of the pile of hay. As did his hand, holding a pitchfork. Bart howled, Step aside, kemosabe! He charged at Homer.

Marge: Bart! Watch out!

The advantage of using double quotes as a sentient dialog signifier is it cues the reader what is plot and what is not. Quotes are an "action signifier." Italics are a "thought signifier", used for book quotations as well as recollections from the past, as well as descriptions of character thoughts in the moment. So it doesn't come down to whether it is spoken, it comes down to when it was spoken.

With respect to your point of view, I'd definitely put the TV news quote in double quotes, simply because live news is being spoken live. And then there is the matter of those old live news streams we find on YouTube from 2016...

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I would also add that you should determine if this is a local or national level of news and try to imitate anchor and field reporter interactions, especially in your setting's market. For example, in the U.S., news tends to come in three formats: Local News, which is regional and normally broadcast from a major city. They typically have two anchors, one man and one woman, who will introduce the story from the anchor desk and throw to a field reporter who is on scene... they typically explain beyond the headline blurb, before playing a prerecorded full report. Upon conclusion, they will follow up with any details they learned since making the video, and maybe field some questions from the studio before throwing back. Local News will typically have a Morning, Noon, Evening, and 11 o'clock segment. The Morning and Evening will typically run for 2-3 hours, repeating segments every 30 minutes, while Noon and 11 PM will be half hour.

National News breaks down into several formats with "Morning Show, Network Nightly News, News Magazines."

Morning Shows tend to be "fun" and upbeat especially as they progress. They will also be more open with public interaction in the vein of "The Today Show" and it's 1994 move to Studio 1A, which had street level access. Almost every major network morning news show has made similar use of ground floor studios with windows to the streets that allow passers-by to wave to the camera. An additional exit to the street where the anchors can meet with the fans leads to a dynamic and fun experience.

Nightly News (Normally at 6 or 6:30 pm) will be a half hour condense of the days new events and is formatted similar to Local News (typically the "field reporters" aren't in the field save for Washington D.C. correspondents) and maybe EnRoute if the story is large enough for a boots on the ground presence.

News Magazines are formatted like 60 minutes or Dateline NBC and typically will follow few dedicated topics with more in depth reporting in an hourlong format and is pre-recorded and are more current events documentaries. 60 minutes typically does three segments with in depth interviews regarding their subjects, and a small short segment that will be a humorous opinion piece. Dateline is a one hour one topic format, typically following a true crime sensationalized story or an in depth investigative reporting story.

Finally, Cable News, which is similar to National Network News the most, save for being cable. Typically, they have a morning show like Network News, and their daytime shows typically run one-two hours per with the actual stories repeating every hour. In fact, from the end of the morning show to around 5 PM, the shows are typically the straightest news you can get, though of late they have a habit of bringing on "talking heads" to debating the political aspects of the story. As a rule, there is always a biased for one political side over the other. After 5 pm, these news shows switch to an opinion-based format, normally naming the show after the lead anchor, who will largely rant and have guests that confirm their opinion and debate guests who are there to strawmen against their opinion. They are more about the host's hot takes of the day rather than any actual factual news. Typically, the 5-7 blocks are panel shows with about 5 people discussing the events of the day according to the 24-hour news cycle, while the 7-11 time slots are typically a single host offering his or her opinions.

Typically, in fiction, the news media are secondary characters in their own right, especially the local news team and Cable Talking heads for different reasons. Local News typically have people who can make a career in that market and will reflect, and get name checked in the intro and will sign on or name the field reporter they are tossing too. Most Local stations have specialized reporters that cover a specific broad topic (For example, an education reporter will cover all the crazy in local education... and will be a field weather reporter when weather closes schools because they have nothing better to do). Talking Head Shows, by dint of relying on one guy to carry an hour of TV with bombastic hot takes, will stand out for another reason. Ironically, when parodied in many fictions, the "talking head" will be politically opposed to the heroes, and thus, they tend to be caricatures that will seem like they're based off of talking heads the reader/viewer doesn't care for (unless there is a specific tic that makes it clear who they are mocking).

There are some phrases and jobs that are now obsolete or rarely seen ("Film at 11" for example is almost never said anymore and is from a period in time when it was difficult to shoot the film and report in the field with an edited segment, so they would take the prime time gap to edit the raw footage for local news. Additionally, while still on call, a helicopter "Eye in the Sky" reporter is a common feature on local tv as it once was. This is largely due to their primary use "traffic reporting" being cheaper to handle with free access government cameras designed to monitor road conditions remotely. That said, especially in more rural markets, local news often worked with emergency services to provide airborne assistance. Often times, a "Sky Eye" reporter wasn't just reporting the news but doing call outs on police dispatch during high speed chases if a local police station didn't have a helicopter (in their traffic days, this was also because they were in the sky looking at roads already, so normally they were used with bigger police departments while their own copters were starting up). This had a mutual benefit to all parties, in that the cops had reliable video evidence of the driver they are chasing while dangerous car chases and the ensuing traffic risks can be quickly communicated to the public and local news could easily communicate to the public what the police wanted them to know while leaving the cops free to worry about stopping the speeder. Finally, it was a benefit to the local news outlet because live police chases were great for ratings.

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