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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Friday, March 28, 2008

Grammar Guide
Punctuate for Clarity, Part V, Quotations in Formal Text

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

If you’re writing a term paper, letter to the editor, business letter or cover letter, etc., and you want to include a quotation, there are specific rules to follow. If the quotation is brief, you must watch your ending punctuation, and we’ll address that, but you can separate your phrases with a comma. For example, your term paper might read as follows:

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 attributive 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 at the word 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 Lender novel Choices Meant for Gods. Your next quote turns out to be long. 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.

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 the attributive 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 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 an 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.

For Standard English grammar resources, 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 For a great gothic fiction novel that every person on the planet should read, I recommend Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte. For a great epic fantasy novel that borrows elements I didn't realize I was borrowing from the great Charlotte Bronte until I had the thing complete, I recommend Choices Meant for Gods by Sandy Lender (which is available in both hard cover and as an inexpensive eBook at

(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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