citations in fiction

by Nicholas Mayn c
(Tokyo)

Question: Am writing a longish short story, pure fiction. Hence acknowledging T.S. Eliot as the author of a couple of lines out of "April is the cruelest month," would disturb the flow of the story. Similar with lines from a Donne poem and from others. I would find references even odd before or after the story; this is not a dissertation but a fictitious confabulation requiring the emotional import of those quotations where they are made, but not their author!


Kindly correct me.

Answer: You can generally quote authors who have been dead for more than 50 years (or 75 in the case of some American authors), since their works are in the public domain.

It's a little trickier to quote works that are still under copyright, and it's generally best to avoid them altogether.

Either way, you should be sparing in your quotations. It also wouldn't hurt to see if you can work the author's name into the story rather than using a cruder device such as a footnote. For instance you might have the main character say something like...

"T.S. Eliot would have taken one look at this snowstorm and declared, Winter is the cruelest month."

Or you could use a quotation as an epigraph at the start of a chapter and put the author's name under it.

At any rate, if you get to the point of getting the book published, your editor will be able to assist you better, since he/she should have a legal department who can clarify such issues. Sometimes a little minor editing can resolve any conflicts without damaging the story.

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