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Thursday, February 25, 2010

A Lesson From "A Dash of Style" - Part 1

Over the next couple of weeks, I will summarize the lessons I learned while reading A Dash of Style: The Art and Mastery of Punctuation by Noah Lukeman. This book addresses how the creative use of punctuation can develop and enhance a creative writer's style. The focus is not on the rules of punctuation. Lukeman's focus is on using your own style to puctuate a sentence in a way that reflects the sentence's proper context and effect. In other words, a sentence may be puctuated a variety of ways, and a creative writer must choose the way that achieves the desired effect.

In order to use the creative punctuation techniques effectively and appropriately, it is important to understand the correct use of punctuation. Although Lukeman has not written this as a rule book, he has written it with the expectation that the reader has a knowledge of the rules of punctuation.

As a creative writer, we are given license to stretch the rules of punctuation when it is intentional and done to achieve an artistic purpose - if the effect is seamless. If a reader stumbles over or stops at poorly punctuated sentences, the effect is failure; instead of artistic punctuation, the writer has shown poor punctuation, and the reader will probably put the book down if the pattern persists. This is the fine-line lesson on punctuation that Lukeman shares.

The book is exceptional and a must-have for the creative writer.

Today's Lesson: THE PERIOD (The Stop Sign)

Lukeman quotes on the period: "All other punctuation marks exist only to modify what lies between two periods - they are always restrained by it, and must act in context of it." "To employ it is to make a statement; to leave it out, equally so." "Its presence divides and its absence connects."

One of Lukeman's examples on the period:

Lukeman: "Consider the below example from [Rick Moody's] novel The Ice Storm that, ironically, displays his abundant use of the period:"

Example: No answering machines. And no call waiting. No Caller I.D. No compact disc recorders or laser discs or holography or cable television or MTV. No multiplex cinemas or word processors or laser printers or modems. No virtual reality.

Lukeman: "He could have chosen to separate these thoughts with merely a comma, or even a semicolon. By choosing to use periods, he allows each to sink in, more effectively cutting us off from the modern world."

By contrast, Lukeman gives the following example on the abundant use of the period:

Example: He talked to the manager. She recommended a book. He looked it through. He liked it. He bought it.

Lukeman: "Such a series of short sentences feels childlike - particularly if the content is banal, as it is here. Most writers will not resort to such extremes... ."

On a future blog, I will share a brief lesson from Lukeman on "the speed bump of the writing world", the comma.

Visit Noah Lukeman's Blog by linking through our sidebar or here:

Purchase the book by linking here: A Dash of Style: The Art and Mastery of Punctuation by Noah Lukeman

Post by: LWC Director Karen Aldridge. Visit her personal blog site at My Writing Loft.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Report on M.M. Buckner Presentation

Nearly twelve people were at the M.M. Buckner author chat at Barnes and Noble in Cool Springs on Thursday, January 28, 2010. Living Writers Collective members present included Mary Ann Weakley, Jennifer Ballard, and Danielle Sisk.

M.M. Buckner asked if we were writers and what we wrote. She had people in the audience talk with each other and ask/answer questions about their own experiences.

She recommended the Writers Market web site as the most comprehensive and up-to-date resource. Buckner said it was smarter to contact a publisher first, and get an agent after you have a publisher. Get an agent to handle deals and rights. Small publishers are good to consider because they are more welcoming to new and unagented writers.

Buckner said writing a synopsis is a great exercise to “look at the bones of your book,” to see gaps and what doesn’t follow, and to review and revise.

Buckner advised using friends as readers. No matter what kind of books they read (or write), they will have valuable input. Joining a critique group is great for growing a thicker skin, learning to handle rejection, using criticism to improve, and getting braver about sharing work. When published, writers get lots of criticism and negative reviews. If you are part of a group it's important to participate and give feedback.. If you show an interest in the work of others, they will do the same for you.

Buckner shared a lot of well-known things about publishing:
  • It’s a slow business.
  • Don’t expect to make money at first.
  • Self publishing is a lot of work.
  • Don’t send a revised version of the same work to a publisher who rejected it unless asked to.
  • Always double check information and updates on publishers' websites before submitting work.
  • The publishing industry is changing

Buckner said keep writing to improve - practice does work and make a difference. Also attend meetings and workshops, and keep reading and learning more about writing. is a great way to meet local groups specific to particular genres.

Planning is a good way to get familiar with plot and characters. Use surface plots and underlying themes to hold readers' attention.

Bucker said blogging is useful for promoting and networking but requires time and commitment.

Posted by: LWC member Jennifer Ballard - Visit Jennifer's website at