Today the Dragon Wins

"Today the Dragon Wins" offers information from Fantasy Author and Professional Editor Sandy Lender. You'll also find dragons, wizards, sorcerers, and other fantasy elements necessary for a fabulous story, if you know where to look...

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Sandy Lender is the editor of an international trade publication and the author of the fantasy novels Choices Meant for Gods and Choices Meant for Kings, available from ArcheBooks Publishing, and the series-supporting chapbook, What Choices We Made.

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Saturday, February 03, 2007

Grammar Guide
Punctuation with quotes and attributive phrases in dialogue

Before we delve into today’s Grammar Guide, let’s define an “attribute phrase”. This is the part of the sentence that shows who or what you’re attributing the rest of the sentence to. If I want to write a short story about a couple characters from my impending novel Choices Meant for Gods, I would likely attribute some obnoxious statement to Henry Bakerson. Here’s the example.

Nigel had been waiting for Amanda Chariss to return from the training arena for nearly an hour.
“Why do you look edgy?” Henry asked as he approached his friend.
“I’m waiting for Mandy,” Nigel replied.
“Ah,” he said. “So, then, why is there still grass where you’ve been pacing?”

(A) I don’t write such stilted dialogue. This is for example purposes.
(B) The attributive phrases in the example above are “Henry asked,” “Nigel replied,” and “he said”.

Punctuation belongs at the end of the completed sentence. This means you must keep track of your quotation marks, your commas, and your attributive phrases to make sure you don’t have stray capitalization and stray periods in the middle of your declarative statements. Here’s an example.

“We hope Chariss saves the world,” he said.

This declarative statement includes the quote, within quotation marks, a comma to set it off from its attributive phrase, the attributive phrase with a lowercase beginning, and a period to end it all. When using dialogue, the declarative, interrogative (question), and exclamatory statements all take punctuation within the quotation marks if the quotation is ending the sentence. For instance, Henry asks Nigel, “So, then, why is there still grass where you’ve been pacing?”, and the interrogative statement ends the construction, thus it takes the question mark inside the quotation mark.

If your character’s statement is a question, and you’re following it with the attributive phrase, then you don’t use the comma to set it off. You go ahead and use a question mark (or an exclamation point if you’re giving them an exclamatory statement to say) inside the quotation mark, and then follow it with the attributive phrase and a period to end the sentence. If you use a pronoun instead of the character’s name, lowercase the pronoun because you’re still in the middle of the sentence. Your example:

“Chariss is the only one who can save us!” he yelled.

Keep in mind that if your character will be waxing poetic for an undue length of time, the opening sentence of each paragraph gets an opening quotation mark, but the closing quotation mark doesn’t come until the end, or until you slap an attributive phrase in there. For instance, Abigail Farrier, also from Choices Meant for Gods and whose blog you can access at http://AbigailLovesNigel.com, would go on and on forever something like this:

“When I awoke today, I thought instantly of Nigel Taiman and his lovely brown eyes,” Abigail said. “He is the handsomest man in the whole world, and I can’t imagine I’ll survive another day without him.
“Given the state of things here in Bellan, I really must make a plan to get back to Arcana City. This isn’t just to see Nigel again, but to make a change in my life.
“Father would be so disappointed to see me go, and would, no doubt, try to stop me. But I am a grown woman now, and able to make decisions on my own. It’s high time I returned to the land where I grew up.”

Also keep in mind that some of your characters’ statements can be made as part of the larger sentence without the interruption of setting off the attributive phrase. You don’t always have to signpost the fact that such-n-such character is about to state something by setting a phrase off with a comma if the phrase and the character’s comment flow together as a continuous whole. For example:

Chariss gave them a quizzical look as she approached. “You two look like you’re up to no good.”
Nigel explained that “Henry’s never let a chance for harm pass him by.”

In this case, Nigel’s statement exists as part of the overall sentence so fluidly that there’s no need to set it apart; it is grammatically part of the sentence. It is attributed to him (even though, in the greater context, it would be obvious who’s speaking and your editor wouldn’t let you keep the attributive info at all) without interrupting the flow with a comma.

This guide only covers the use of punctuation with quotes when working with dialogue. We’ll have to address punctuation when quoting material for other forms of writing, such as term papers, in another Grammar Guide (how does Wednesday sound?). For now, feel free to review this guide to be sure you put the punctuation within the quotation marks where it should be, and make sure you don’t capitalize stray words in your attributive phrases within your sentence.

(Sandy Lender, author of Choices Meant for Gods, has been an editor in the magazine publishing industry for fourteen-plus years.)
“Some days, you just want the dragon to win.”

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3 Comments:

Blogger Jeni said...

Thanks, Sandy. I really appreciate very much your posting grammer information such as this - need all the help I can get in that department! LOL

2:48 PM  
Blogger M. B. Weston said...

So what do you do when a character is reading a sign and saying the words in his or her head? Take, for instance, this sentence:

The inscription on the foot of the statue said, In times of darkness, let faith be your guide. Let your hope never fail.

Do I italicize In times of darkness, let faith be your guide. Let your hope never fail, or do I put it in quotes?

I should know this....

5:27 PM  
Blogger Sandy Lender said...

Michelle,
Because it's a quotation from a source (and it's short), you'll put quotation marks around it. Also, set it off with a comma beforehand. Now, if the fellow is remembering it in his mind, I'm not sure!!! I guess you want to make it abundantly clear that it's in his mind, and fantasy readers are used to seeing such things in italics, so you can't go wrong by putting it in italics. Your readers are going to know exactly what that means. Leaving it unitalicized may leave some doubt, depending on your context, and, because readers are lazy (hey, I'll admit to that myself!), you don't want to give them any sort of puzzle to take them out of the story. So I think you're safe to err on the side of caution by italicizing. I would. JMHO!

Sandy L.
"Some days, you just want the dragon to win."

10:28 AM  

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