1. tearingTHEstrands
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    tearingTHEstrands New Member

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    Poems/songs at the beginning of novels; do you do it?

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by tearingTHEstrands, Jul 18, 2010.

    I love to start the book out with a stanza or verse that relates to the plot.
     
  2. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Make sure you get written permission first, if it isn't your poem or lyric.
     
  3. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I started the first draft of my novel with a poem (one of mine, of course). When I began the second draft, that poem was the first thing to be cut. It didn't belong, and it was kind of embarrassing.

    But I'm not sorry I started the first draft with it. It served a purpose: it helped set the tone in my own mind for the story and helped me deepen my own mythology. It was almost like a security blanket for my novel as it was in its early childhood. But as I got better as a writer and my novel got bigger and stronger and more able to stand on its own, it didn't need the security blanket any longer.
     
  4. Aconite
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    Aconite Senior Member

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    Epigraphs sometimes help, sometimes hurt. If you are taking the title from another piece of literature or a famous quote, then it helps if you add something so people can understand it. Ie, Robert Silverberg's oceanic scifi The Face of the Waters starts with a quote from I Genesis ("And the earth was without form and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.") -- not to proselytize, but so people know where the title comes from. Similarly, in the middling fantasy novel I wrote in college, I took the quote from Napoleon: "Four hostile newspapers are more to be feared than a thousand bayonets" for the title A Thousand Bayonets (Fictionpress it if you dare). The title makes no sense without the epigraph, so it needs to be there.

    However, if you are starting the novel with something the size of Tom Bombadil's song, which has limited relation to the plot, and which will turn off your reader, cut it right out of your work, in my book. The first few paragraphs are all you have to hook your reader, and if you waste them in lyricism, particularly in genre fiction, the reader will not continue.

    The verse shouldn't just relate to the plot, if you're using a poem. Besides being short, it should also be inextricably linked. It should instantly tell the reader the setting or the theme of your work. To that end, you may want to stay from Shakespeare: He's so exposed at this point that if you're not Faulkner, with The Sound and the Fury, you may risk making your work seem generic, in my opinion.
     
  5. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    I almost always skip these when they show up at the beginning of a chapter. I have on occasion read them, and so far it hasn't changed my opinion that they should almost always be skipped by the reader :)

    If there's a short quote, maybe a line or two, I'll read it. Apart from that I usually get the sense the author is trying to be cute or else impress me with how deep his story is going to be because it relates to some work of poetry. That's fine I suppose, but it is usually boring and I have books of poetry if I'm in the mood for a poem.
     
  6. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

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    I quite like them lol I haven't used them with my current story but I like the idea of taking part of the previous story like Emma Tennant did when she wrote the Pride and Prejudice Sequels and using it at the top of subsequent stories. Or piece of sage advice of the major character I had killed off in a previous story.

    I am also tempted to use a few lines from an ancient ballad at the top of a short story I am writing for a competition.
     
  7. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    This raises a good point, Elgaisma. While I don't like these at the beginning of chapters, for the most part, they also don't turn me off the work. I'll often skip them, but it doesn't stop me buying the book. I love the fantasy novels of Steven Erikson, but I almost never read the quotes at the beginning of his chapters.

    So from my perspective I guess there's no real harm in having poems, etc. at the beginning of chapters. Your readers who like them will be happy, and the ones who do not will just skip over them.
     
  8. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

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    I agree where I really like them is in historical fiction. I like it when the story is based on a real person, and something is included that was written at the time the person was alive. Preferably about them. And of course you don't have to worry about copyright laws with an obscure piece written in 300 BC:)
     
  9. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    Ah...I agree. In this case I actually do read the quotes, because I like the historical authenticity and insight. Good point.
     
  10. Diablo Robotico
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    Diablo Robotico Member

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    I once had the fanciful idea of starting one of my novels with a T.S. Eliot quote. I now realize that while I love the quote, it would be a huge hassle (and probably impossible) to get rights to the poem it's from, and it probably doesn't add very much to the text anyway.
     
  11. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

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    thanks its why I am torn with my short story its based on two amazing ladies. The town I live in used to be one of the most important in Britain, but it along with its history is largely now unheard of.

    It has a massive ruined medieval cathedral that these two ladies were associated with. And I have just found a ballad in an archive dedicated to one of them
     
  12. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    to reiterate what cog said, be sure whatever you use is either your own, or in the public domain... if not, you must get written permission of the author/lyricist, or be guilty of copyright infringement, for starters...

    titles can be used freely, however citing the author/lyricist should be done as a common courtesy, if not legally required... check out the letter of the us laws here: www.copyright.gov

    any country that's also a signatory to the berne convention will have similar or the same ones...
     
  13. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    There is a certain amount you can use as Fair Use, but that line is kind of fuzzy. Getting permission is not only safer, it is courteous.
     
  14. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Fair Use does not apply to the inclusion of copyrighted material in works of fiction. Fair use is for reviews or for academic studies. Any use of copyrighted material in fiction requires written permission from the copyright owner.
     
  15. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    That's not a hard and fast rule, though, Cogito. Fair Use is determined by a four-factor test, at least in the U.S. The factors are:

    1. the purpose and character of your use
    2. the nature of the copyrighted work
    3. the amount and substantiality of the portion taken, and
    4. the effect of the use upon the potential market.

    These are statutory, and there is nothing in the Copyright Act to prevent Fair Use from being applied to fiction.

    Factor #1 argues heavily against use in a work of fiction, as opposed to an educational work or something along those lines. And Factor #1 is the primary factor in the test, so fiction writers are likely to come out on the wrong end of the Fair Use issue. But there's nothing that specifically precludes Fair Use in a work of fiction.

    In some cases, the use is so minimal that the Fair Use test isn't even applied, even in a fictional work. Some guy sued the makers of the movie Seven for including his copyrighted photos in the film, and even though it is a fictional movie the filmmakers won because the use was so minimal. They didn't even get to the Fair Use analysis.

    But given how the Fair Use factors play out for fiction, I don't think any fiction writer would be wise to try to rely on it. You're probably going to lose if you do, especially with something like poems or song lyrics or something where you're going to be taking a good portion of the work.

    And even if you win, it's going to cost you an arm and a leg in court so you might as well just get permission or leave the material out :D
     
  16. JTheGreat
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    JTheGreat Contributing Member

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    I don't use them myself, but they're okay in books I read, as long as they're relevant and only at the beginning of the book, as opposed to one per chapter like the Ghostgirl series. Surprisingly, SMeyer of the Twilight fame (some people have told me that the term "saga" doesn't correctly fit the structure of the series so i do't use it) picks quotes and poems that I enjoy reading. But Kristen Stewart sounds kind of emo when she recites them in the movies *Facepalm*.
     
  17. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    sorry, but you're wrong steerpike... and will be misleading the unknowing by saying fair use can be applied to fiction...

    "Section 107 contains a list of the various purposes for which the reproduction of a particular work may be considered fair, such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, and research."

    ...note that nothing there even comes close to equalling fiction written for the writer's monetary gain...

    ...anyone wanting the complete and official 'skinny' should go to the source:
    www.copyright.gov
    http://www.copyright.gov/fls/fl102.html
    ...and if still in doubt, consult a literary attorney, not well-meaning folks on a writing site...
     

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