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Old 10-25-2009, 05:50 PM
Join Date: Aug 2002
Posts: 36,258
A question about how to cite a quote from a fictional character

I'm not talking citation in the APA/MLA/Turabian sense or even in the formal rules (though those are fine if there are any) but in less formal writings, such as sig lines or in a letter or non-academic essay. When you use a quote from a fictional character, especially if it is a well known fictional character, is it best to cite the author, the work, or the character? )

If the character is universally known you can just say

"To be or not to be, that is the question..."
because everybody knows Shakespeare wrote Hamlet, plus it's the title character. You could do the act scene if it was a lesser known quote perhaps.

Fewer people probably know Polonius however, plus he's not the title character, so if you used

"Neither a borrower nor a lender be."
Hamlet (Act III scene ii)
or would you place Polonius in there somewhere?

Then let's take the following quote spoken by Ignatius J. Reilly from J.K. Toole's Confederacy of Dunces, a book and a character that are extremely well known but certainly not universally recognized), which is the best way? This one gives all the info but seems a bit clumsy:

"When my brain begins to reel from my literary labors, I make an occasional cheese dip."
Ignatius J. Reilly (in John Kennedy Toole's A Confederacy of Dunces)
Which of these seems best? (Assume that you can make no assumptions about whether the people reading it will ever have heard of the book or the character or the author.)

"When my brain begins to reel from my literary labors, I make an occasional cheese dip."
A Confederacy of Dunces)
"When my brain begins to reel from my literary labors, I make an occasional cheese dip."
Ignatius J. Reilly (A Confederacy of Dunces)
"When my brain begins to reel from my literary labors, I make an occasional cheese dip."
John Kennedy Toole
Which seems best? And thanks.
Old 10-25-2009, 05:56 PM
Join Date: Jun 2003
Location: Sophomore at VTech
Posts: 6,039
Not the third, that implies that Toole said it. I'd probably go with the second, but the first could also work.
Old 10-26-2009, 03:19 AM
Join Date: Sep 2003
Posts: 5,998
. . . related, I suppose, compare quotes attributed to Groucho Marx.
(not answering the OP, just going off on a tangent for further discussion)

Anything Groucho ever said, people want to attribute to him. Many "Groucho Quotes" come from movies for which he is not credited as a screenwriter.

I understand there was a bit of ad lib, but how does one disect every Marx Brothers movie to discern when Groucho ad libbed and when he was speaking a line written for him? And if you could do this, then started attributing the quotes to the screenwriter . . . well, people would get a bit upset at hearing their favorite Groucho quotes attributed to anyone else.

Keeping the screenwriter removed from the quote is consistent with Captain Carrot's point that it would be innacurrate to suggest that Toole said the Ignatius J. Reilly quote. Inconsistent, however, is that Groucho quotes are attributed to Groucho and not the various characters that Groucho was playing.

Is Groucho a special case? When the quote is popular enough that there is consistent cultural recognition of a source, does that common recognition trump "accuracy"?
Old 10-26-2009, 03:52 AM
Join Date: Sep 2009
Posts: 938
I think it makes sense to give the name of the fictional character as well as the novel if the character's name provides context for the quote or connotes a particular meaning. For example, including the name of Atticus Finch could emphasize that your quote reflects a personal conviction to do what you believe to be morally correct even though it may be unpopular in your community. (I haven't read A Confederacy of Dunces, so I don't know whether the name of Ignatius J. Reilly has a particular significance or connotation.)
Old 10-26-2009, 06:37 AM
Join Date: Mar 2006
Location: Australia
Posts: 10,407
Using your Hot Dog Cart Guy Ignatius J. O'Reilly example, I'd go with the second one.

FWIW, I recently used a quote from Plan 9 From Outer Space in an academic essay (on the future direction of News Blogs), using this format:

"We are all interested in the future, for that is where you and I are going to spend the rest of our lives. And remember my friend... Future events, such as these, will affect you in the future."
-Criswell, Plan 9 From Outer Space (1959)
No-one said anything to indicate that wasn't a "correct" way of referencing the quote, so that's the style I favour- Basically, "Who Said It, Where, And When?", just like any other reference, in other words.
Old 10-26-2009, 06:50 AM
Join Date: Sep 1999
Posts: 5,352
I have to admit, I've got a slight fondness for the clunky version which tells the character's name, the author's name and the title of the work.

After all,(in my view) a significant portion of the purpose of a cite is not so much to say "this line isn't a Sampiro original, it's a line by somebody else" as it is to say "if you want more information, look here".

In this case, Ignatius J. Reilly is an interesting name for a character, and providing both the name of the author and the title of the book make it easier for someone wanting to know more about this character to do so.

More generally, I'd be happier if you left out the character's name before leaving out the author's name or the name of the work.
Old 10-26-2009, 07:58 AM
Join Date: Sep 2003
Posts: 5,998
Originally Posted by Eureka View Post
More generally, I'd be happier if you left out the character's name before leaving out the author's name or the name of the work.
Yeah, but a character from a novel or play makes it easy.
How would you want to see a "Homer Simpson Quote" credited?
Even if you looked up the credits for the particular episode from which the quote originated, you'd see multiple staff writers credited for the episode- with no indication of who wrote the line being referenced.

I'm thinking that in cases like sitcoms/cartoons/or my Groucho example upthread, that credit may be analogous to political speechwriting.

Don't political speechwriters consider it part of their professional code that they not take credit for their work, that their work rather be credited to the person for whom they are writing?
Old 10-26-2009, 08:15 AM
Join Date: Sep 1999
Posts: 5,352
In the case of a Homer Simpson quote, I'd rather see some clue which episode (or at least which season) than the name of the screenwriter.

That may not be a realistic wish either.
Old 10-26-2009, 09:15 AM
Join Date: Sep 2009
Posts: 845
It really depends on your audience.

The more formal, the more information you need to provide.

For informal writing, just using a recognizable character name is sufficient.

If the character is less recognizable than the author, use the author's name or both. The work in which it appears should only be used in a formal reference or when including the work is part of the point being made.

In the case where there are multiple authors, like a TV show, and the character name on its own is insufficient to uniquely identify the source, use the show name in place of a list of writers. OR you could use the character's creator.

-Homer Simpson
-Matt Groening's Homer Simpson
-Homer Simpson of The Simpsons

Fictional characters of sufficient fame do not need to have anything else attached to them, in casual or for entertainment writing styles. As a fiction writer, I'd never bog down the writing with all the information about a quote. If I do quote Shakespeare, it'd be written: As Hamlet asked, "To be or not to be?" If I quote Anne Rice, whose sold considerably fewer copies of her work than Bill, I might take it one step further: As Anne Rice's Lestat said, "...there are always rules to break." But I would not include the actual work it's from, even when it could be one of many as in Lestat's case because the point of the sentence would not be clearer with a full source and the credit is properly given to the creator, either assumed in Shakespeare's case (even though he is not the only source for Hamlet, he's the assumed one) or explicitly.

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