People quote things all the time. We repeat favorite lines from movies, computer games, television shows and even news clips. We use brand names instead of generic terms for many items…tissues become Kleenex, sandwich bags become Ziploc bags.
In normal speech these quotes are usually OK, you are simply relaying information. However, copyright issues come into play when you use the quotes for gain. In most cases, the owners won’t sue if you use the word Chevy or Butterfinger in your manuscript. You can even use quotes such as the above – “Do or do not, there is no try.” ~ Yoda ~
However, part of the reason the classics are classic, is because the message is timeless. I realize our authors are writing popular fiction and there are doubts the reading material produced will survive some cataclysmic event wherein our books are the only written documentation left in the far distant future. This does not preclude the author from writing the best possible genre fiction they can.
But if you mentioned an Edsel or barley water in your manuscript now, very few of your 25-55 target audience would know what either of those things were. They would assume these items were something from the past, and might very well think to themselves, “Oh, this isn’t contemporary fiction, and I only want to read current stories.”
When you use popular brand names or quotes from current, popular television shows or movies, it dates the manuscript, simply because that brand may not be around five years from now–that movie may not be remembered. I recall watching Back To The Future with my daughters and trying to explain what a DeLorean was…to them, it looked like a cool, gull-wing car and they didn’t understand the irony the movie was try to convey.
Historical fiction is somewhat exempt form this caveat, because the historical reader is more knowledgeable about the times, and might want to see these no longer brand name copyrighted items in the manuscript. This is not to say that contemporary readers are less knowledgeable. They simply couldn’t care less that there is a difference between a Nash and a Studebaker.
By the same token, using famous quotes to set atmosphere or the tone of your novel is a shortcut. Rather than using your own words, your own talent, you are relying on another person to do your work for you. Whether that person is fictional or not, they are controlling your manuscript for a brief time.
Writers are creators. They bring characters into being, and breathe life into this fictional world. They place the players, plot the details, and bring it all to a satisfying conclusion. In this respect, they are the god of their world. By using quotes, sayings and other copyrighted material, the author is depending on that source to do the job…the job the author should be doing on their own. It’s your world. Create it your way. Don’t rely on others’ words to convey your story. Don’t date your manuscript by flooding it with brand names that will one day be forgotten–hopefully, long before your story is.