How To Format a Poem In Dialogue

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  • How To Format a Poem In Dialogue

    I'm working on a pilot comedy and one of my scenes involves a character reading her poem. Do I have it set up like traditional dialogue or do I separate the lines with slashes like "/" ?
    "A screenwriter is much like being a fire hydrant with a bunch of dogs lined up around it.- -Frank Miller

    "A real writer doesn't just want to write; a real writer has to write." -Alan Moore

  • #2
    Re: How To Format a Poem In Dialogue

    Just an educated guess, and I may be incorrect, but I would treat it as you would song lyrics (poetry set to music). Put the poem in italics and have it appear as it would if printed in a book. The way you suggest, it appears you’re attempting to save space on the page. Also, IMO, you lose the impact of the poetry your way (with slashes).
    Last edited by TigerFang; 08-23-2020, 03:02 PM.
    "Go to the edge of the cliff and jump off. Build your wings on the way down.- - Ray Bradbury

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    • #3
      Re: How To Format a Poem In Dialogue

      Replicating the stylistic approach of this screenplay will likely serve you well:

      THE DEAD POETS SOCIETY
      by
      Tom Schulman
      https://www.raindance.org/scripts/De...ts-Society.pdf

      (eg: see top of page 19)

      Code:
      Giggles in the class. Pitts reads.
      
                               PITTS
                  "Gather ye rosebuds while ye may
                  Old time is still a flying
                  And this same flower that smiles today
                  Tomorrow will be dying."
      
                               KEATING
                  Gather ye rosebuds while ye may.
                  The Latin term for that sentiment
                  is "Carpe Diem." Anyone know what
                  that means?
      Last edited by Crayon; 08-21-2020, 03:27 PM. Reason: add script excerpt
      Know this: I'm a lazy amateur, so trust not a word what I write.
      "The ugly can be beautiful. The pretty, never." ~ Oscar Wilde

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      • #4
        Re: How To Format a Poem In Dialogue

        First, they do not pass laws saying that you must do it like this, or like that. So you have some freedom here.

        You might want to look at what John August had to say about lyrics in screenwriting (not exactly the same thing as a poem, I know, but similar).

        Here are my recommendations, and these are neither outrageous nor dogmatic.
        1. As a general rule, do not use a slash at the end of a line. A slash adds nothing.
        2. Use italics for the poem. If you do not do that, put the whole poem within quotation marks.
        3. Put a line break (not a paragraph return) at the end of each line of the poem. In Windows you make a line break with Shift+Enter. This lets you enter several lines of a poem in one dialogue unit. When you are finished with the dialogue unit, hit Enter in the usual way.
        4. If you have long lines of poetry, you may need to reset the right margin for that particular dialogue unit. The line does not have to break where a normal dialogue line would break. You can let it extend to the right. But if a line is so long that you have to break it at the right page margin, let it break, and then hit Shift+Enter for the next line.
        Here is some blank verse. It works the same for lyric poetry. I used Shift+Enter at the end of each line of verse.

        Code:
                                       STUDENT
                           (recites verse)
                      I ask you, Captain, what our chances are
                      To weather out this fearsome storm tonight?
                           (to the Teacher)
                      How was that? Enough emotion?
        As I said, they do not pass laws about this kind of thing. Just be clear in what you do.

        "The fact that you have seen professionals write poorly is no reason for you to imitate them." - ComicBent.

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        • #5
          Re: How To Format a Poem In Dialogue

          Originally posted by Madbandit View Post
          I'm working on a pilot comedy and one of my scenes involves a character reading her poem. Do I have it set up like traditional dialogue or do I separate the lines with slashes like "/" ?
          Since she's reading it, it is dialogue. You can place poem as it's recited in quotations, which seems most clear.

          If it is something shown on screen you could format it as a "general" element instead of an "action" element then play around with the spacing (Final Draft).

          If you want to be creative in the ACTION lines, type a letter, any letter will do, then add the blank spaces you want then delete that one letter at the beginning of the line. The ACTION element won't let you just use the space bar... you have to type a single letter then remove it after.
          "Learn the rules like a pro, so you can break them like an artist,- Pablo Picasso

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