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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Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Grammar Guide
Punctuate for Clarity, Part II, The Use of the Serial Comma

(Ed. note: I do not use serial commas in this article, pursuant to AP style.)

The serial comma is the last comma before the conjunction in a series of items in a sentence.

Example: Chariss, Nigel, Rohne, and Henry leave the Arcanan estate in my epic fantasy novel Choices Meant for Gods.

The final comma after “Rohne” is referred to as the serial comma. What’s unique about it is how much trouble it can cause for writers.

If you’re writing a novel, business letter, personal letter to a friend, book report, etc., you use the serial comma.

If you’re writing an article for the newspaper, a magazine, a letter to the editor or some other journalistic medium, you do not use the serial comma. That’s the preferred style of the Associated Press. Now, if the items in the list include a complex construction, the serial comma is retained for clarity.

Example: Loetha and Lahs, Hrazon and Mia, and one of the guards joined Nigel and Chariss on their trip to Arcana City that evening. Nigel felt foolish with so many chaperones along for the journey.

Do you see the serial comma? It's the one after Mia's name. Because the group traveling to the city is split into pairs, its members' names are combined in the list, creating compound subjects in the list. Loetha and Lahs is one compound subject. Hrazon and Mia is the next. The elements of the series contain their own conjunctions, making the sentence more cumbersome if you leave out the serial comma.

When writing a term paper or thesis for a grade, you may be asked to follow other stylebooks that dictate the serial comma’s use, and you should refer to and follow those guides. (Chicago Manual of Style, MLA, your professor’s latest mood swing, etc.)

For additional information on commas, the Associated Press Stylebook and Briefing on Media Law is your Bible. As I pointed out in yesterday's Grammar Guide, its bent is toward journalism, thus there will be minor differences in punctuation rules when using AP versus "normal" English. For "normal" English, I recommend Creative Writer's Handbook (fourth edition) by Philip K. Jason (a friend of mine) and Allan B. Lefcowitz (available from and Eats, Shoots & Leaves The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation by Lynne Truss (available from

(Sandy Lender has been an editor in the magazine publishing industry for sixteen years, is an editor in the book publishing industry and is the author of the epic fantasy novel Choices Meant for Gods, available from

"Some days, I just want the dragon to win."
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