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How to Write a Dedication: A Few Pointers

Posted by Donald Bastian on

Book pages

A reader of this blog has asked for advice in writing a dedication to a book. As you will see below, dedications vary a great deal in content, length, and style. Nowadays, most dedications are short. About the only advice I would give is not to use “Dedication” as a title on the dedication page, or “I dedicate” in the wording of the dedication. A simple “To” plus a name will suffice, or a “To” plus a name and a short “for line” -- an indication of why the person is the dedicatee.

I can’t resist quoting some examples of fun dedications (yes, some of them do use “dedicate” in one form or another and some are quite long). 

Tad Williams, author of the Otherland series, obviously had a lot of fun with the task of writing dedications.  

 

Book 1 / City of Golden Shadow:

This Book is dedicated to my father Joseph Hill Evans with love.

Actually Dad doesn’t read fiction, so if someone doesn’t tell him about this, he’ll never know.


Book 2 / River of Blue Fire:

This Book is dedicated to my father Joseph Hill Evans with love.

As I said before, Dad doesn’t read fiction. He still hasn’t noticed that this thing is dedicated to him. This is Volume Two – let’s see how many more until he catches on. 

 

Book 3 / Mountain of Black Glass:

This is still dedicated to you-know-who, even if he doesn’t.

Maybe we can keep this a secret all the way to the final volume. 

 

Book 4 / Sea of Silver Light

My father still hasn’t actually cracked any of the books – so, no, he still hasn’t noticed. I think I’m just going to have to tell him. Maybe I should break it to him gently.

“Everyone here who hasn’t had a book dedicated to them, take three steps forward. Whoops, Dad, hang on there for a second ...

 

The great British novelist P.G. Wodehouse penned these elegant (and fairly concise) words for the dedication page of his novel The Heart of a Goof

To my daughter Leonora without whose never-failing sympathy and encouragement this book would have been finished in half the time.

But Wodehouse was an irrepressible writer who could create humor out of thin air. Here’s what he came up with for his book Bertie Wooster Sees It Through, drafts and all:

Dedication

TO

PETER SCHWED

(Of the firm of Simon and Schuster)

DEAR PETE,

I have rather gone off dedications these last forty years or so. To hell with them about sums up my attitude. Today, when I write a book, it's just a book, with no trimmings.

It was not always so. Back at the turn of the century I and the rest of the boys would as soon have gone out without our spats as allowed a novel of ours to go out practically naked, as you might say. The dedication was the thing on which we spread ourselves. I once planned a book which was to consist entirely of dedications, but abandoned the idea because I could not think of a dedication for it. 

We went in for variety in those days. When you opened a novel, you never knew what you were going to get. It might be the curt take-it-or-leave-it dedication:

TO J. SMITH

the somewhat warmer 

To My Friend

PERCY BROWN

or one of those cryptic dedications with a bit of poetry shoved in underneath in italics, like

TO F.B.O.

Stark winds 

And sunset over the moors. 

Why? 

Whither? 

Whence? 

And the sound of distant drums...

J. FRED MUGGS

Lower-Smattering-on-the-Wissel, 1912.

or possibly, if we were feeling a bit livery, the nasty dedication:

TO THE CRITICS

THESE PEARLS

It was all great fun and kept our pores open and brought the roses to our cheeks, but most authors have given it up. Inevitably a time came when there crept into their minds the question What is there in this for me?”  I know it was so in my case. What is Wodehouse getting out of this?”  I asked myself, and the answer, as far as I could see, was, Not a ruddy thing.” 

When the eighteenth-century writer inserted on Page One something like

To

THE MOST NOBLE AND PUISSANT

LORD KNUBBLE OF KNOPP

From

HIS VERY HUMBLE SERVANT

THE AUTHOR

My Lord. 

It is with inexpressible admiration for your lordship's transcendent gifts that the poor slob who now addresses your lordship presents to your lordship this trifling work, so unworthy of your lordship's distinguished consideration

 

he expected to clean up. Lord Knubble was his patron and could be relied on, if given the old oil in liberal doses, to come through with at least a couple of guineas. But where does the modern author get off? He plucks—let us say—P. B. Bitten from the unsung millions and makes him immortal, and what does Biffen do in return? He does nothing. He just stands there. If he is like all the Biffens I know, the author won't get so much as a lunch out of it.

Nevertheless, partly because I know I shall get a very good lunch out of you but principally because you told Jack Goodman that you thought Bertie Wooster Sees It Through was better than War and Peace I inscribe this book

TO PETER SCHWED

TO MY FRIEND PETER SCHWED

TO P.S.

Half a league 

Half a league 

Half a league 

Onward 

With a hey-nonny-nonny 

And a hot cha-cha


P. G. WODEHOUSE 

Colney Hatch, 1954

 Don BastianDB

 

Photo credit: Horia Varlan

Topics: Writing tips, Writing a Dedication

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