Quotations and Dialogue

Q. I am currently editing a lengthy manuscript made up almost entirely of quotations made by a dead person to a living person. The living person is what is known as a “channeler.” Since the living person is quoting what the dead person tells her, how do I handle the quotes? The dead person is of such stature that giving the quotes to the living person does not seem right. Any help you can give me is much appreciated.

A. If you want to represent the dead person as truly speaking through the channeler, then by all means quote the dead person as if he or she is physically speaking, even if it is the living person’s voice box that is being used for turning spirit or thought into physical vibrations in the air. If you do this well, it will be clear enough what is going on (though you may want to outline your methods in an introductory paragraph). I think that it would be more awkward to keep having to resort to something like “the channeler, speaking the voice of the dead person, then said. . . .”

You might consider some alternative approaches. The rather convoluted narrative voices in Faulkner’s Absalom, Absalom! were differentiated in a variety of ways, most of them verbal, but some of them typographical. For example, you might decide to use unquoted italic type for everything that the dead person says through the channeler—or for everything that the dead person does not say. Whatever approach you use, try to maximize the transparency with which different voices can be distinguished. (And for more ideas, see CMOS 13.39–45, which includes discussions of unspoken and indirect discourse.)