As most writers know, there are several types of writing styles: APA, MLA, and CMS, the Chicago Manual of Style. I’m going to focus on the CMS, as this is typically the style in which fiction is written.

A reader asked about the use of quotation marks versus italics when mentioning, in a novel, certain books, songs, and TV shows. Let’s start with the style, then I’ll move on to the legalities.

Short titles, e.g., short stories, poems, plays, chapters, articles, and episodes, should be enclosed in quotation marks. Longer and major titles, e.g., book titles, television shows, movies, etc., should be written (er, typed?) in italics—you may, of course, underline these instead, but in fiction writing, italics are almost always used.

To specifically answer the reader’s question, you would do this:

He was watching Letterman, waiting to hear the “Top Ten List.” After that, he planned to finish reading Stephen King’s The Stand while listening to Kiss’ Destroyer; his favorite song was “Beth.”

For more specifics on quotation marks and other miscellaneous formatting issues, check out The Owl or The Chicago Manual of Style Online.

On the other hand:

Sometimes, you cannot mention specific products by trademarked name; sometimes, you cannot use celebrity names; sometimes, you cannot name actual companies or buildings.

Aside from copyright infringement, which most writers are overly concerned about, there is also trademark infringement. Additionally, there can be issues of libel or defamation.

This blog post from 2010, written by an attorney, can address all of these issue far better than I can.

So there you have it—a specific answer to a specific question, which often is hard to find on the Internet. Feel free to contact me, via email, by clicking on my profile pic to the right.

I can also take a look at your query letter—click to the right on QUERY THAT!







2 comments on “QOTD

  1. Robin, I was wondering if the ‘single quote ( ‘ ) would be used for
    ‘The Top Ten List’ (as above) rather than the double quotation ( ” ) ? Isn’t a double quotation mark reserved for speech? (Just a question) Thanks ~R


    • A single quotation mark, aka an apostrophe on the keyboard, is usually used within dialog, such as when a character is telling someone a story:

      “So, as I was saying, we walked down the hill and she turned to me and said, ‘Hurry up!’ and so picked up the pace and beat her to the bottom.”


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