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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Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Grammar Guide
Punctuation with quotations in formal text

If you’re writing a term paper, letter to the editor, business letter, cover letter, etc., and you want to include a quotation, there are rules to follow so you don’t embarrass yourself. (and so you don’t get docked any points on that thar term paper, eh?)

If the quotation is brief, your life is pretty easy. You’ve got to pay attention to ending punctuation, and we’ll address that, but you can probably separate your phrases with a comma. For example:

Charlotte Bronte gave her heroine Jane Eyre a fiery spirit. When Mr. Rochester would detain the troubled governess, she said, “I am no bird; and no net ensnares me: I am a free human being with an independent will.”

The phrase that precedes the quotation is set off by a comma. The quotation from Jane Eyre ends with a period in the novel, thus it takes the period at the end of the sentence before the quotation mark in the text here. If we elected to chop up the quote, ending it at “being,” the punctuation would move. For example:

When Mr. Rochester would detain the troubled governess, she said, “I am no bird; and no net ensnares me: I am a free human being”.

The punctuation must denote the end of the correct sentence, and that is the “outer” construction—the construction without the quotation marks.

Let’s say you wanted to really impress your English professor and were quoting something from both Bronte and the new Lender novel Choices Meant for Gods. Your next quote turns out to be long. Now your life is not quite so easy. You have to pay attention to your introductory punctuation and make a judgment call on whether or not to indent the quote, essentially setting it off from the body of your paper (or letter or whatever you’re writing).

First of all, a quote is usually considered lengthy if it is more than three or four lines of poetry or if it is more than one paragraph of text. In these instances, you end your attributive phrase with a colon, allow a single line of space between this phrase and the quote, and then set the quote off by insetting it (setting it off) in the body of your paper with left justification. MLA, Chicago Manual of Style, and various uppity English professors will dictate how far in the inset should be. If the quote isn’t all that long, but you still feel it’s long enough to warrant more than a simple comma to set it off, use a colon, but don’t go to the extreme of setting it off in the body of your paper. Here’s your example:

To demonstrate a flashback scene, I quote from Lender’s Choices Meant for Gods: “Hrazon had swallowed his pride and requested Drake be imprisoned, not exalted. He challenged the court to stand up for morality. The implication that they might ignore morality had offended them. By the time the court adjourned, Godric was forgotten again, and Drake was handed the leadership of Kida and an order never to come within a league of Amanda Chariss Derdriu. The latter was merely a nod or a ‘thank you for trusting the hierarchy’ tossed at Hrazon. The wizard could have turned every one of them into charred piles of bone with the blink of an eye, and Godric would have applauded him.”

Notice that you will use quotation marks to surround the quotation in this instance. For the extremely long quotation that you inset, no quotation marks are needed. The use of indenting the body of the quote in your paper signals to the reader that the section is a quotation.

Also notice that the use of quotation marks within the quote takes the alternate form. In other words, use single quote marks when quoting within a quote, even though the original may have used the proper, double quotation marks.

I hope these two guides on punctuation with quotations, both with dialogue and with more formal quotes, have been useful. If you have additional quotation and punctuation questions, by all means, zip them to me in the comments section and I’ll pull together additional Grammar Guides! That’s one of the reasons this site exists!

(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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