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What Is a Dropped Line?

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  • Written By: A. Leverkuhn
  • Edited By: Andrew Jones
  • Last Modified Date: 21 November 2016
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    Conjecture Corporation
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A dropped line in linguistic and literary terms is a line of text that extends to a certain point on the page, and then ends with a correlating line of text proceeding from that midpoint on the next lowest horizontal line. These types of techniques have been used extensively in literature and text throughout the ages for various effects. Some of them have to do with a more technical rendering of screenplay or theater script, while others are done for artistic effect.

One type of dropped line is sometimes seen in a written script for a play or film. In this type of line dropping technique, the second part of the text is written on a lower line because two different speakers are reading two parts of the same line. This often happens when the drama is presented in a poetic form, such as iambic pentameter, a popular meter in Elizabethan drama. To preserve the poetic meter with two different speakers, the dropped line helps to portion out the additional part of the iambic line, or a line that conforms to some other type of meter.

Another reason for dropped lines is for translation, footnotes, or any other aspect where breaking a text line by line is useful. These functional uses of dropped lines are not extremely common in most languages. In some technical texts, they can be advantageous ways to deliver better clarifying results to a community of readers.

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Other types of dropped lines are done to enhance a linear narrative by creating a deliberate pattern of white space on the page. Some poets and artists talk about this as a link between ideas and text composition. One idea is that a dropped line provides a type of implicit ellipsis, where the white space acts as a “thought break” between two phrases. In general, using white space in poetry can help guide the reader and break up text into more abstract pieces.

Proceeding from the above concept of dropped lines creating unique poetic associations, one can also associate the concept of a dropped line with the phenomenon of shape poetry. In shape poetry, poets write the text to form particular shapes on the page. Numerous dropped lines could create one of these shapes, either a concrete form, or a more abstract “blizzard,” or other association for the reader.

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