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She suddenly began singing "Cruella De Vil Cruella De Vil If she doesn't scare you No evil thing will To see her is to take a sudden chill Cruella, Cruella She's like a spider waiting for the kill Look out for Cruella De Vil".

How do you insert a sung part without skipping lines like in a lyrics? Do you replace the line breaks with spaces? Can you do this without using line breaks? What are the standards?

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  • 12
    Very, very carefully, and probably at great expense... May 9 at 14:37
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    I think how you did it here is just fine. If you have regular talking mixed in, then the singing needs to be in" 'secondary brackets' " so, like this: He sang off key, "'Do wah ditty, ditty dum ditty do.' Hey, how do I sound?" Otherwise, if your word processing software handles muscical notes, insert them at the beginning and end of the singing.
    – DWKraus
    May 9 at 16:13
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    @DWKraus I disagree - it needs punctuation of some sort. May 10 at 0:25
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    @Tanner Swett It didn't feel like a whole answer to me, so I just left a comment. Besides, I think Matt has a really good answer, mine isn't much more than an opinion.
    – DWKraus
    May 10 at 3:10
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I remember seeing lines separated with slashes in several books, although those were all non-fictional. This results in: "Cruella De Vil / Cruella De Vil / If she doesn't scare you / No evil thing will / [...]"

I think some form of punctuation is necessary because often lyrics have line breaks at other places than the end of sentences, making it hard to guess where they should be - if you don't know the song. Using capitalization to mark line breaks is not ideal, especially when there are names. For example, it is not clear whether "Cruella De Vil Cruella De Vil" makes up one or two (or even more) song lines.

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    hmm, some sources on that?
    – Sayaman
    May 9 at 21:27
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    I'm sorry, I don't remember the book titles anymore where I saw that.
    – Matt
    May 9 at 21:35
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    This is especially nice with the italics!
    – DWKraus
    May 10 at 1:49
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    I've seen two slashes being used as well.
    – Polygnome
    May 10 at 10:22
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    @Sayaman It's a pretty common English technique. May 10 at 20:54
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Check out Tolkiens "Lord of the Rings." There are poems, and I think lyrics there. Some even in Sindarin (I think, to be honest, I skimmed past most of it).

It was done in italics (some editions), with an indent (left and right, in some editions; one edition looks like the block of verse is about half the width of the book page and centered [the text is left-aligned though], i.e. very large indents on both sides), and in a separate section with empty lines before and after. Like the verses in a poem.

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    For the case described in the question, where a character is reciting / singing a few lines, this maybe isn't what you'd want. The style would work better when the story / narrator is presenting the reader with a complete song or poem, like Tolkien did. Worth mentioning as an answer to the title question, though, +1. May 10 at 0:12
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    @PeterCordes: All the poems in the Lord of the Rings are recited by an in universe character. There are many examples of people singing(see link), and also reciting poetry(there's not a huge difference in how its presented in the text, as far as I recall): fellowshipandfairydust.com/2015/05/07/…
    – sharur
    May 10 at 22:30
  • @sharur, yes, the different editions may have some style differences, but the essence is, it's showed in "poem form" in a separate section.
    – Erk
    May 11 at 0:49
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I would do this in one of two ways.

The first case is where the singing is "mere dialogue" and not particularly important. It's simply something that a character is singing, rather than being an important part of the novel. In this case, I would put the words in italics, and punctuate them as if they were prose:

She suddenly began singing, "Cruella de Vil, Cruella de Vil! If she doesn't scare you, no evil thing will! To see her is to take a sudden chill! Cruella, Cruella! She's like a spider waiting for the kill! Look out for Cruella de Vil!"

The second case is where the words are an important part of the novel, and you want to display them in a distinct and weighty fashion. In this case, I would write the lyrics indented, with no quotation marks, in italics, with line breaks, using end punctuation only sparingly:

She suddenly began singing:

Cruella de Vil, Cruella de Vil!
If she doesn't share you, no evil thing will
To see her is to take a sudden chill
Cruella, Cruella!
She's like a spider waiting for the kill
Look out for Cruella de Vil.

I would never use slashes for lyrics in a fictional story. For one, I don't think I've ever seen slashes used that way in a published work of fiction. For two, when writing fiction, it's important to keep aesthetics in mind, and in my personal opinion, slashes just don't look very good. When writing non-fiction, it's usually important to let the reader know where the line breaks are, but in fiction, that's probably not important.

Of course, you should think about the legal aspects as well. Personally, I think that quoting a small section of a song in a novel is almost certainly fair use, but don't take my word for it.

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  • Another benefit of using italics is that it allows lyrics to be interspersed with text describing actions that are performed when various lines are sung, without having to repeatedly say e.g. "Then, as the voice on the radio sang 'Plenty of room at the Hotel California', Bob picked up the document". Once it's been established that the radio voice is in italics, "Welcome to the Hotel California.... Bob shuffled through the documents on the table and one caught his eye. Plenty of room at the Hotel California.... Bob Eyed the document critically". [I'd use line breaks if comments allowed]
    – supercat
    May 10 at 17:26
  • Note that this kind of usage would almost certainly qualify as fair use if one avoids quoting too many consecutive lines of a song. People familiar with the song would understand how its timing relates to the action, and those unfamiliar with it wouldn't have a sense of that even if all the lyrics were printed.
    – supercat
    May 10 at 17:28
  • These are two great solutions. I agree, slashes probably aren't aesthetically pleasing to most people whereas I'm used to all kind of normally rare characters so that I perceive no aesthetic difference between a comma, exclamation mark or a slash - at least at first glance. I even prefer the slash as the clearer visual divider sometimes. Still, for fictional work your approach is clearly better. Hence +1 from me.
    – Matt
    May 10 at 18:14

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