everyone is doing quotes wrong.

Hey everybody, can we all stop attributing quotes from characters in books to the author who wrote that dialogue? It’s just nonsensical! I don’t care what the rules are for different forms of citation, we need to change them so that they aren’t completely asinine.

There seems to be a concerted disregard for quote accuracy. For example, every time someone wants to add gravitas to a quote, they throw Hemingway or Lincoln or a Roosevelt at the end of it, regardless of whether or not it had anything to do with that person. I’ll see signs and things with a quote on it attributed to Lincoln and think, “That doesn’t seem right at all.” Then, with a shallow internet search I am able to discover that the quote is in no way connected to Lincoln. That bugs me.

Yet, what bugs me so very much more is that people will take a character’s line from a book that they like, put it in quotes, and then attribute it to the author. That’s erroneous. I may not always be against citation rules, but I can confidently say it’s stupid and people should stop doing it. Putting someone’s name at the end of a quote means that you are attributing the sentiments therein to that person. So, if I were to say “I wish people would stop being idiots.” You could very accurately put Scott Small underneath it when you throw that shit on an inspirational pillow or whatnot. However, if I were to write something on trigger fiction where a character says, “I don’t know how I’d get through the day without crystal meth,” you could not reasonably think it’s ok to attribute that quote to me personally. The sentiments clearly aren’t mine, they are those of a character in a story I was writing.

If an author writes a character who is racist, or a serial killer, or a 900 lb. wizard gorilla, you can’t use that character’s quotes to reveal some genuine belief the author holds. Yet, it’s what we do all the time when a character says something inspirational and then we throw it up on the internets as a direct quote from the author. It’s just inaccurate, and I’m so tired of how blasé we are about accuracy. And if the rules allow for it or even encourage that inaccuracy, we should change the rules.

It’s even more common for people to misquote when the author is writing as the narrator of a book. If you remember your high school English classes at all, you’ll remember that the narrator and the author are not necessarily one and the same. Actually, they very rarely are.

For example, this: “It was a pleasure to burn.” – Ray Bradbury

Now, this would be appropriate as a citation on a list of greatest opening lines in novels. Then it would be attributing it to Bradbury as an opening line, not as an idea. However, to just randomly put it on a sign or pillow or quote site would be attributing that actual sentiment to Bradbury.

How hard is it to do something like this instead?: “It was a pleasure to burn.” -Guy Montag, from Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

Six more words, none of the incorrectness.

Obviously, the examples I’m using here are overdrawn. No one really gets confused when they see that Bradbury citation. No one actually thinks I need crystal meth to get through the day (because I am very good at hiding it). However, there are countless times where it is actually confusing and/or ambiguous. I see it most every day on Facebook and Goodreads and Tumblr (when I still went on Tumblr). Even worse, it can be used that way to misrepresent an author’s thoughts and ideas for the purposes of ideologues and those who want books banned.

Accuracy is important. Facts are important. Reason is important. We should collectively start acting like it.