The Look of Lyrics

Dear Scott…

You’re 3 for 3 with answering your own question. Yes, italicize the words being sung. Yes, surround the singing bits with quotation marks as you would any dialogue. And yes, if a couple of lines or more (perhaps entire verses) are being sung, then set off the passage from the rest of the narrative text with wider left and right margins (this is called an “extract”). Two of your paragraph tabs will make a nice margin depth. You can see this treatment in Curse of the Blue Tattoo, from L. A. Meyer’s spirited Bloody Jack Adventures series. That said, if your character is just singing a few words or a single line, ditch the special margins and just incorporate the italicized lyrics into the narrative as you would any short bit of dialogue, complete with beginning and ending quotation marks.

Happy writing!

The Editor


  1. Thanks for the info on lyrics. I’ve been separating and italicizing mine, but I didn’t know about the indentation. This site is always full of good information. Thanks, Dear-Editor!

  2. You seem to have answered the question well, but can you elaborate more on the part about using quotation marks? I don’t quite understand, because there are two different quotes, singles (‘) and doubles (“).
    If a character is speaking, and in their dialogue they sing something, do the lyrics receive their own set of single quotes within the double quotes that mark what the character says, or is the only thing setting the lyrics apart the italics?
    “I was singing, ‘Never forget me,'” said Jamie.
    “I was singing, Never forget me,” said Jamie.

    Thank you for the advice.

  3. I’m seeing conflicting responses on the web, so I’ll ask a yes or no question on the whole lyrics-in-dialogue issue.

    Here is what I’ve written (note: lyrics in PD, so no copyright issue):

    Bridgeman walked off chuckling under his breath, half whistling and half singing, “‘Chicago, Chicago, that toddlin’ town…’”

    So here, I’ve got him singing (quotes) and since the lyrics are essentially “quoting” the songwriter (technically), I have them in single quotes within the dialogue.

    Am I completely off-base? (BE KIND! LOL)

  4. Using the quote-within-a-quote format sounds technically correct, but it would also seem to violate a style rule that opts for the simpler version of punctuation if the appearance becomes too busy or distracting in itself. I think that style rule is discussed in Strunk and White if memory serves.

  5. In my novel, a character turns on the radio and I write the lyrics being sung. Am I correct in just writing the lyrics in italics and quotation marks for the song title?

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