Welcome to the new Writing Q&A site! This is the place for anybody interested in the craft of professional writing, editing, and publishing. We welcome questions about all types of writing: fiction, poetry, technical documentation, journalism, scriptwriting, non-fiction, essays, and more. Got questions? Click the "ask" button! Able to offer answers? Try the search button, click on any tag, or just browse. And please vote on content that stands out.
If you have an account on Writing Stack Exchange, you can claim your questions and answers with your account here.
We're currently running on temporary software while waiting for Codidact to be ready. The URL is on codidact.com now, and the software will be updated to match later. Regardless of the software, you can help us expand our library of questions and answers right now -- please join us.
Punctuation assistance with complicated list of titles during a formal greeting
I'm working on a scene in a high-fantasy setting where the main characters greet each other for the first time. Part of the greeting is also a definition of what each of the characters mean to each other. In this case, a flourish of titles establishes expectations:
Wordlessly, he presented his beautiful, shimmering wife to Mary; who said, “And you, my Sarah: soother of the seas, queen of the oceans, sweet nurturer, and mother of music; I greet you.”
The simplified sentence is trying to say:
He presented his wife to Mary who said, "Hello."
What is the proper punctuation for Mary who said and for the "Sarah: [list of titles]"?
Semicolons are not necessary for separating the speaker from what she said. There is also no need for a semicolon before the list of titles. Rules would also state that there is no need for a semicolon to separate the long, introductory subordinate clause from the actual subject/verb within the quotes.
I think the answer is:
Wordlessly, he presented his beautiful, shimmering wife to Mary, who said, “And you, my Sarah, soother of the seas, queen of the oceans, sweet nurturer, and mother of music, I greet you.”
Still unclear on the use of the comma after Mary, who said since the quote has to clearly belong to Mary and not the wife.
Using a colon in your writing is a difficult choice when it comes to fictional writing. For academic writing it's quite easy to remember. A colon is used before a list and that's about it. You could also use a colon after a full sentence to add something that clarifies that sentence, but that looks very informal. Read for example "When to Use a Colon In Your Writing" from magoosh.com (emphasises from original text) for some information about how other people use colons in their writing:
Wendy only likes two flavors of ice cream: vanilla and chocolate.
Wendy only likes two flavors of ice cream is a full sentence on its own.
Vanilla and chocolate is the fragment that clarifies which two flavors she likes.
The quoted article mentions "Colons also tend to make your writing look a bit more formal than the relaxed and much more frequently used comma." but I disagree with this. Using something that is explicitly different from the average way people write is the opposite of formal. Just because you use more punctuation does not mean that your writing is more formal.
You should simply use commas in both of the case you asked about. That's formally correct, easily understood and the usual way it is written in fantasy novels. Look for example at Daenerys Targaryen from the show "Game of Thrones", which is an adaptation of the book series "A Song of Ice and Fire", who is simply
Daenerys Stormborn of House Targaryen, the First of Her Name, Queen of the Andals and the First Men, Protector of the Seven Kingdoms, the Mother of Dragons, the Khaleesi of the Great Grass Sea, the Unburnt, the Breaker of Chains
Don't begin a sentence with an adverb (i.e. "wordlessly").
[Bob] presented his beautiful, shimmering wife to Mary.
Mary bowed graciously and outstretched her hands to the esteemed guest. “And you, my Sarah: soother of the seas, queen of the oceans, sweet nurturer, and mother of music . . . How's it hangin'?"