Quick note: New books-and-business links are up on the Google Notebook HERE.
Last week I mentioned my craft-book collection in my 7 Deadly Sins post; this week I’m going to point to one in particular that I recommend everyone purchase and mark up ASAP. A Dash of Style: The Art and Mastery of Punctuation by Noah Lukeman is surprisingly consumable thanks to its conversational tone, and offers a fun and breezy tour of ways creative writers can use punctuation for best effect.
Did you know that periods and commas can help you snare a reader from Sentence One? They can. How about that using a particular style of punctuation for a character can help you differentiate him/her from others on the page? True. Were you aware that your use of punctuation reveals your essential writer self?
The writer who overuses the period (creating consistently short sentences) tends to be action oriented. He is fast paced and keeps readers in mind, as he strives to grab their attention and keep the work moving. This is to his benefit. Unfortunately, he is also likely to have not yet developed a good ear for language, for the subtleties of sentence length, style, rhythm, and pitch… The writer who underuses the period (creating consistently long sentences) falls into two categories: either he is an amateur who thinks in an uncensored, chaotic manner, or he is a seasoned writer who crafts too-long sentences deliberately. If the latter, he is likely to be literary, to take chances and aspire to create rich prose. This bodes well. Unfortunately, though, he is also too focused on word craft, likely at the expense of pacing and plot.
I’m enjoying Lukeman’s work not just for these frequent punctuation horoscopes, but for the mountain of tips he packs onto the pages of his book. Here’s why you need it:
We’re all writing from our own point of reference, and we each have a natural style. Lukeman forces us out of this comfort zone to think, truly, of what’s best for the story. Are your punctuation choices actively working for you, helping you to tell your tale? They could be. They should be. Are they pacing your story properly? Are they helping you create the best rhythm to drive your voice? Are they helping your sentences explode with a bang when you need for them to? Different types of punctuation can help you achieve your goals.
Lukeman also wants to help you avoid some fatal punctuation pitfalls, like:
* overusing commas, exclamation points, question marks and italics
* not attending to the length of your clauses
* becoming a semi-colon junkie
* crafting half-formed thoughts with colons
* stashing overlong clauses inside a double dash or parentheses (and not knowing the difference between them)
Bonus: There are plenty of chew-on-this exercises at the end of each chapter, forcing you to consider the choices you’ve made in your work.
Not only is A Dash of Style insightful; it is, believe it or not, an entertaining read that’ll have you wondering over the power of punctuation–not to mention why no one’s addressed this subject before now.
Thanks, Mr. Lukeman.
Write on, all!