A Dash of Style

A Dash of Style


The Art and Mastery of Punctuation

“One of the Best Writing Books of the Year.”
The Writer

–International Bestseller M.J. Rose

What Writing Professors are Saying:

–Paul Cody, Ithaca College

–Brian Ascalon Roley, Miami University (Ohio)

–Dr. Peggy Brown, Colin County Community

–John Burt, Brandeis University

–John Smolens, Northern Michigan MFA

–Phyllis Moore, Kansas City Art Institute

#1 Bestseller on Amazon Shorts

A Selection of the Writers Digest Book Club

Named One of the Best Writing Books of the Year by The Writer

The first practical and accessible guide to
the art of punctuation for creative writers

Why did Poe and Melville rely on the semicolon? Why did Hemingway and Carver embrace the period? Filled with examples from literary masters, A Dash of Style: The Art and Mastery of Punctuation is the first guide to punctuation for the readership that needs it the most: creative writers. In the tradition of Elements of Style, it can also be used by anyone hoping to write well.
Punctuation reveals the writer: haphazard periods, for example, reveal haphazard thinking. Semicolons might indicate affectation; colons might denote melodrama; dashes might point to scattered thought. Yet in the right hands, these marks can also transform your writing from the banal to the exquisite. Punctuation can be used to teach the writer how to think, and subsequently how to write.
A short, practical book, filled with original exercises, A Dash of Style teaches writers the benefits that can be reaped from mastering punctuation, such as word economy, enhanced style, clarity, progression and intention. Along with the major marks (the period, comma, semicolon, colon, quotation marks, the dash and parentheses) the book examines little-scrutinized marks such as the paragraph break and section break, and finally considers how they all might be used together in “The Symphony of Punctuation.”
        Brief, interactive and highly engaging, A Dash of Style 
will be a necessity for creative writers, along with anyone hoping to make punctuation their friend instead of mysterious foe.



“A DASH OF STYLE is a straightforward and thoughfully written guide that will be useful to any writer who wants to gain better control over the tools of the craft. This is great, down-to-earth advice that never becomes overly prescriptive, from a guy who knows his business. I recommend it highly!”
–Dan Chaon, National Book Award Finalist, author of You Remind me of Me

“Here’s a book that offers not only the mechanics of punctuation, but the means to make your writing soar.”
–Alexander Steele
Dean of Faculty, Gotham Writers’ Workshop

“I’ve read A DASH OF STYLE by Noah Lukeman: but I am far from done with it. This is not a rule book, neither is it a delightful series of stories about commas and colons. (Not that it’s not delightful.) This is what we writers have been waiting for — a book that takes the straight jacket off of punctuation and instead offers it up as a series of creative writing tools. Complete with exercises that make you think, rethink, consider and see your own work in a new light; Lukeman’s wit and insight make this an instant classic.”
–International Bestseller M.J. Rose, author of The Delilah Complex 

“I’ve never seen punctuation elucidated in such a directly helpful manner. All creative writers, from the just-starting-out to the most stylistically sophisticated, will benefit from Lukeman’s savvy advice in A DASH OF STYLE.”
–Therese Eiben, former Editor of Poets & Writers, editor of The Practical Writer,
Creative Writing teacher at William Patterson University

“A DASH OF STYLE is the contemporary book on the subject. It puts plunk down everything you need to know about punctuation in one place where you can find it.”
–Carol Bly
legendary writing teacher and author of many critically-acclaimed books, including Beyond the Writers Workshop (Knopf)

“Noah Lukeman’s witty, learned, and practical A DASH OF STYLE is a master class in the expressive uses of punctuation to organize and orchestrate the reader’s felt experience of your thinking. The creative exercises at the end of each chapter are particularly astute ways of helping you develop a feel for the music of prose.”
–John Burt
Professor of English and Creative Writing at Brandeis University, author of The Way Down and Work Without Hope

“Lukeman’s writing always struck me as being clean. Clean as in elegant.  But this time, more so. A DASH OF STYLE has a gorgeously direct and confidently-clarified writing style. This is so rare. There is a basic wonderful genuineness and honesty to the book, and plain real intelligence. The tone of the body of the text is strong and muscular, yes muscular. It’s not an ‘advice’ book, it’s a how-to, a real how-to. I especially loved the section on paragraphs and section breaks. I’d love to use it in a workshop.”
–Ellen Cooney
former teacher of creative writing at Harvard University (extension school) and M.I.T., and author of many critically-acclaimed novels

“Noah Lukeman makes a case for punctuation as being instrumental in revealing the soul of a writer; he compares punctuation to musical composition, and sees the combination of commas, colons, semi-colons, dashes, ellipsis, question marks, italics, hyphens, quotations marks and full stops as a writer’s version of a symphony. What keeps A DASH OF STYLE enjoyable are the examples Lukeman selects to illustrate his points. We get to compare and contrast the illuminating styles of writers as diverse as Hemingway, Kafka, Joyce, Shakespeare, Melville, Faulkner, Poe, Forster, Lessing, Crane, Carver, Elizabeth Barrett Browning and T.S. Eliot. Lukeman allows us to consider punctuation as a prelude to great writing. Certainly worthy of an exclamation point. Or two!!”
–Lawrence Grobel
lecturer on interviewing and the Literature of Journalism at UCLA, New York Times Bestselling author of The Art of the InterviewThe Hustons and Al Pacino

“A DASH OF STYLE reinforces the notion that punctuation is an essential aspect of fiction (as well as other creative genres). It is not only instructive in terms of how punctuation can be used, which in itself makes it worth reading, but it demonstrates (often with the use of fine examples drawn from great works of literature) how much punctuation contributes to the true character of a piece of writing. It is a terrific book. In fact, it’s flawless.”
–John Smolens
Professor of Creative Writing at the MFA Program at Northern Michigan University, and author of many critically-acclaimed novels

“I finished A DASH OF STYLE in two sittings. It is very lucid, wonderfully written, and flexible. It explains simply, giving clear, concrete examples, both from the quotidian and from great literature. The sections on the colon and semicolon are the best I’ve ever seen. It’s also a damn good read, as well as being pithy, elegant, smart, and absolutely unpretentious. The writing is lively and vivid throughout. Nabokov said somewhere that if you pick up a line of prose and it tingles, then you know it’s alive. The prose tingles throughout, and we never feel we’re reading a book about punctuation at all. Best of all, it never condescends to or makes the reader feel stupid. It’s wise, funny, entertaining, and my students could gain so much from it.  That I think is the highest praise you could offer such a book.”
–Paul Cody
Professor in the Department of Writing at Ithaca College, legendary writing teacher, and author of many critically-acclaimed novels

“Lukeman has managed to produce a page turning book on the art of punctuation. It’s a great resource for creative writers and teachers. What I like most about this original book–as a teacher and novelist–is that Lukeman includes numerous examples of brilliant prose by an exhaustive collection of writers (Faulkner, Hemmingway, Camus) to illustrate his insights, so that one comes away from reading each chapter feeling inspired.”
–Brian Ascalon Roley
Assistant Professor, Department of English, Miami University (Ohio), critically-acclaimed author of American Son

“A DASH OF STYLE is a book about punctuation that is actually a book about writing itself. Lukeman gives the lie to the idea that learning grammar and punctuation don’t improve writing. Most punctuation books are indifferent to the quality of the examples chosen, but Lukeman shows punctuation working within the context of real writing, glorious writing. Reading this book, you can’t tell whether you’re learning how writers write or how punctuation works—which is, of course, precisely the point. College students, creative writing students, teachers frustrated with boring punctuation exercises, and all writers who simply want to be reminded of the intimate connection between punctuation and powerful writing ought to read this book.
–Kent Meyers, critically-acclaimed author of several novels, including The Work of Wolves
Writer-in-Residence at Black Hills State University and faculty member in Pacific Lutheran University’s Rainier MFA Writing Program

“At long last, we writers and writing teachers, lesser lords, perhaps, of punctuation, have something to really celebrate! Lukeman’s A DASH OF STYLE is neither a perfunctory how-to on the art of punctuation, a one-size-fits-all comma manual, nor is it an anecdotally-cute collection of grammatical do’s and don’ts. Lukeman’s A DASH OF STYLE bubbles up from the natural percolation of a life’s-worth of reading by a prodigious reader with perfect pitch. This book is written, pure and simple, out of the author’s obvious and infectious love for literature, and reading it reacquainted me with my own. From Conrad to Camus, from Shakespeare to Shaw, I felt less like I was reading a book on the art of punctuation and more like I was reading these great writers from an intimate’s point of view. My only quarrel is with the author’s mother, who should have produced him twenty years earlier so that I could have used this book for the last twenty years I’ve been teaching fiction workshops.”
–Phyllis Moore, Director of Creative Writing, Kansas City Art Institute
critically-acclaimed author of A Compendium of Skirts

“After teaching literature and writing for ten years at Rutgers University, The University of Iowa, and Clarke College, I thought I knew everything there is to know about teaching punctuation. Lukeman’s A DASH OF STYLE taught me otherwise. Whether one wishes to write fiction, poetry, drama, screenplays, or just great English, Lukeman’s third book masterfully unveils how punctuation affects the minds and emotions of readers. A DASH OF STYLE needs to be on every aspiring and accomplished author’s work desk!”
–Dr. Ervin Nieves
Department of English, Clarke College, Dubuque, Iowa

“As both a teacher and creative writer I found A DASH OF STYLE to be as clear and beautifully written as Lukeman’s first two books. Once again, he has composed a text that is perfectly organized, conveys important but subtle truths, and is unique in perspective. I will recommend the book to my students and perhaps give it as a gift to friends who write. A punctuation book for the creative writer. What a great idea.”
–Laura Oliver
Adjunct English Faculty, University of Maryland

“Lukeman has answered my unuttered cry for a punctuation guide for creative writers. In fact, I hadn’t realized that I needed it until now. My students fail to understand the need for punctuation, and I have relied on grammar books from English composition—painfully inadequate and misleading for fiction. A DASH OF STYLE is a delightful shift. I see genius at work here.”
Dr. Peggy Brown
Professor, Collin County Community College, Georgia


“One of the Best Writing Books of the Year.”
The Writer, December, 2006

Lukeman offers literary examples from major writers like Mark Twain, while [Eats, Shoots & Leaves’ Lynne] Truss dissects poorly punctuated public signs. The Writing Exercises ideas are Lukeman’s best contribution, and particularly for these, this work is recommended for academic and large public libraries.”
–Library Journal, May 15, 2006

“Two years ago I reviewed Lynne Truss’s enormously successful book Eats, Shoots & Leaves, which reviewed punctuation in a masterly way. Do we need another book on punctuation so soon? Well, yes. This book is aimed at a different audience and is about a different aspect of punctuation.”
–European Science Editing, May 2006

“[Lukeman] provides incredible insight for those individuals endeavoring to entertain and inspire future generations with their words.”
–Amazon.com editorial team
(referring to an Amazon shorts excerpt of A DASH OF STYLE)

“This delightful book should be read by every writer. Lukeman, a literary agent, approaches punctuation not as a series of rules to be memorized but as a set of goals that the writer is trying to achieve. Read this, and your attitude towards periods, commas, and all their pals will never be the same.”
–Book Passage, October 2007

“Like a syntactical phrenologist, Lukeman reads character from preferences in punctuation.”
–The Independent (UK), May 20, 2007

“More than just a style guide, A DASH OF STYLE discusses how creative writers can use punctuation for artistic effect. Lukeman, a literary agent and author of bestselling writing manuals, explores such questions as how dashes enhance Emily Dickinson’s poems, or how Melville used semicolons to convey tension in Moby Dick. Includes writing exercises.”
WinningWriters.com (a selection of Writers Digest 101 Best Websites for Writers)
Recommended Nonfiction, March 2006

“Lukeman provides a wealth of wisdom on how to use punctuation—not as mere grammatical squiggles on the page, but as important creative tools for our craft. And he writes from real-world experience on two sides of the publishing desk. Lukeman’s [previous] works stand way ahead of the usual how-to books, precisely because Lukeman himself is a thorough teacher and a highly creative thinker. Now comes A DASH OF STYLE, another necessary volume for the serious writer’s library. Far from being another boring reference book, A DASH OF STYLE looks at punctuation in a kind of upside down, inside out, entertaining manner, from a perspective one may never have viewed before. The lessons are invaluable for writers who want to improve both the way they think, and consequently the way they write. A DASH OF STYLE is a truly exciting way to view what once seemed like tedious old periods and commas.”
click here to read the complete review)

“What Lukeman seeks to do is move grammar away from the rote rules of language and into the melodic prose creative writers can relate to. For those looking for a new way to approach this necessary aspect of writing, Lukeman may have found a way to break down the barriers to good grammar.”
–Romantic Times Magazine

“Punctuation can make all the difference between a good piece of writing and a superb piece of writing. In A DASH OF STYLE, Noah Lukeman explores and demystifies each punctuation mark in turn. From the punchiness of the full stop to the unacknowledged flexibility of the question mark, the manifold powers of punctuation are revealed in this practical yet engaging guide. All kinds of writers will find invaluable tips to help improve their clarity of thinking and expression of ideas. A DASH OF STYLE will teach writers how to use punctuation to the greatest effect, regardless of the context in which they are writing. Real examples from all types of well-known writers past and present are used to illustrate specific points. Each chapter also contains practical exercises to help writers get to grips with their own writing following the advice given in the book, making it ideal of use alongside creative writing courses and for teachers. Written by a well-known and respected author of books on creative writing, A DASH OF STYLE is the essential guide to using punctuation creatively and effectively.”
–The Westminster Bookshop

“Mr. Lukeman is a New York literary agent. Not perhaps, the first person an English author would turn to for advice. But he’s good. And so is his other book The First Five Pages.”
–The Writers’ Forum (UK)

“As a copy-editor myself, I believe that it is possible to make a distinction between using punctuation with scrupulous accuracy and using it accurately but with flexibility, to enhance the flow of a piece of prose in various ways…Hence, I was glad to see this book from Noah Lukeman, which is intended to explain the art of punctuation rather than the skill…Lukeman has an extremely keen and sensitive eye for sentence structure and a neat way of explaining things. He teaches by example, flags up the dangers of over- and under-use of various strategies, and sets exercises at the end of each chapter, to encourage the reader-writer to think carefully about how they work with sentences. It is a book that is well worth reading if you are the kind of writer who values that level of detail.”

“Finding a book on punctuation that is aimed at creative writers rather than grammarians is a nice change. Noah Lukeman looks at punctuation as an art form that can be used to improve a passage of writing, and he discusses each punctuation mark in its context. In the process, he analyses the way successful writers, both contemporary and from the past, have used punctuation creatively. The chapter on the semi-colon, for example, looks at how Edgar Alan Poe used the semi-colon to enhance word economy, discusses how Mark Twain’s use of the semi-colon enabled his readers to digest complex sentences, and shows how the same punctuation mark can serve to relieve choppiness within a passage of short sentences. Punctuation, he argues, is a creative exercise. And at the conclusion of each chapter are end-of-chapter exercises that encourage you to look at your own manuscripts to analyse how you are using the punctuation mark discussed in the chapter and suggested exercises that will help you to use it to greater creative effect.”
–Writers News Magazine (UK)

“The proper method of correcting semicolon misuse used to be a simple smack with the ruler. Noah Lukeman, author of A DASH OF STYLE, eschews the principles of Sister Meredith, taking on the demeanor of a loving uncle, a colleague, and an artist.  This is not a book for grammarians, but for writers of fiction, non-fiction, memoirs, poetry, and screenplays. His gentle style and guiding hand work beautifully to set the writer at ease at the very start of A DASH OF STYLE. For instance, he shows how throughout history some pretty impressive authors have abused the rules of grammar to wonderful effect, and suggests get it right all the time should not be our primary focus as writers. In this way, he encourages experimentation and makes punctuation fun and interesting.  He calls punctuation our friend and shows how though skilled use, the non-word half of writing makes those very words clearer and adds meaning. He demonstrates through interactive methods (including exercises) how punctuation adds bounce and rhythm to our prose, how it creates sound and motion, how it it clarifies our writing and brings the words to life like tiny whispers in our readers’ ears.  Punctuation, he explains, creates its own little world. He puts the elements of that world under a microscope and teaches the writer to become sensitive to this habitat. In this way, the book becomes not about making better grammarians, but about creating better writers.  A DASH OF STYLE focuses on the most important uses of punctuation, those that can impact most creatively on the writers work rather than merely the technical aspects apostrophes and slashes. It concerns itself with such things as how adding or subtracting a punctuation mark will alter the intention of a scene.  As a writer with a firm grasp of the rules of punctuation, I found Lukeman’s approach very useful. I don’t want to become a grammarian. What I need is to learn from great writers how they used punctuation to create a style and a mood in a scene, and Lukeman delivers. He shows, for example, how periods can be used to create a stream-of-consciousness effect; how commas can indicate a passing of time; how dashes can be used to capture a certain form of dialogue; how a revelation can have dramatic effect through the use of colons. The impact on content, he says quite rightly, is the holy grail of punctuation, and he makes the learning interesting by reference to samples of written language used by such writers as Hemingway, Faulkner, Poe, Melville, Carver, Dickinson. and Stein.
By the end of reading A DASH OF STYLE, the writer will no longer cringe at the thought of punctuation, rather will embrace it as another tool in the writing arsenal.”
–BackSpace.com (reviewed by Sean Dent)

“The unique selling point here is that there are no grammar lessons and no attempt to bore the reader with rules and conventions. Instead, Lukeman seeks to inform by showing examples of successful use by well-known authors. And it is aimed at creative writers, who I suspect will enjoy this approach.…He starts off with an examination of what he rightly identifies as the ultimate basic set, which he calls ‘the triumvirate’ – the comma, semicolon, and the full stop. It’s amazing how much there is to say about them….Readers unsure about punctuation are likely to profit from what he has to say….He illustrates his guidance with brief quotes from famous writers – all of which I think will make readers more sensitive to the subtleties of punctuation….He’s quite good on quotation marks, and I think anyone writing character-based work would do well to look closely at the variety of different ways dialogue can be presented in prose fiction….The same is true of the paragraph….This is a non-technical and non-judgemental approach to the subject of how to give pace, flow, and cadence to your writing. It’s also full of insider tips which he drops in from time to time.”
–Mantex (UK)

“All of us studied punctuation in school, more or less successfully. How boring you must be thinking. But note the title – THE ART AND MASTERY. Here is not the general rules from high school. Here is how Joseph Conrad used the comma to masterly effect, and how writers like Gertrude Stein and Cormac McCarthy underused it for startling artistic purposes. Here is how E. M. Forster used the dash and how William Faulkner sometimes underused the period. We are taught in school that we have to follow the rules. This is a book that goes beyond that, it teaches you how to break the rules. But it’s how to break the rules so that you can create the effect that you need for the moment you are creating. You might consider this a graduate course in punctuation oriented to the writer – and writer includes novelists, short story writers, poets, memoirists — even the mundane copywriter doing advertising – perhaps especially him.”

“A DASH OF STYLE explains the application of punctuation not just in technical terms but artistically and creatively as well. If you’re looking for a basic grammar manual, I recommend Strunk & Whites: ELEMENTS OF STYLE, but if you want to delve a little deeper into the creative process, then A DASH OF STYLE should be on your resource shelf as well.”

“Written by a literary agent, The Art of Punctuation looks at punctuation as a medium for artistic expression and shows how different writers – from Herman Melville to Raymond Carver – favour different punctuation styles. It identifies the pitfalls of each and helps you identify your own punctuation style, and thereby develop as a writer. Highly recommended.”

“I recommend everyone purchase [A DASH OF STYLE] and mark it up ASAP. [It] 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….I’m enjoying Lukeman’s work not just for [its] frequent punctuation horoscopes, but for the mountain of tips he packs onto the pages of his book….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.”

“[In A DASH OF STYLE, Lukeman] states ideas I’ve not seen expressed elsewhere: that stops and content are interconnected to the extent that some content is not possible with certain punctuation and vice versa; that stops with different strengths in the same piece of prose influence each other and change their effect on the reader; that sometimes marks will complement others, while at other times they will conflict (his last chapter, The Symphony of Punctuation, goes into this in some detail). Every chapter ends with exercises directed at readers who are also active writers…Every part of Mr Lukeman’s argument is illustrated with lavish quotations from good authors and he is easy to read. Anyone who wants to improve their authorial voice will find value in it.”


A DASH OF STYLE is filled with anecdotes, examples from literature, before and after examples, quotations, and exercises.  The fact that it is short (190 pages), interactive, and highly readable makes it an obvious choice for teachers to use, at the high school, college or graduate school level, or in a creative writing workshop or MFA program.  For creative writing teachers who are looking to add variety to their curriculum, it is the perfect choice, as there is nothing else like it on the market.

A DASH OF STYLE is recommended by and/or will be used as a teaching tool by writers or professors who are (or were) affiliated with English or writing programs at the following schools:

Brown University
Harvard University (Extension School)
Johns Hopkins University (Graduate School)
Brandeis University
Gotham Writers Workshop
Northwestern University
Oberlin College
The University of Iowa                
Northern Michigan University (MFA Program)
University of Southern California
Rutgers University
Ithaca College
Temple University
Northwestern State University
University of Kansas
University of Florida
William Patterson University
The Loft (Minneapolis writing workshop)
Clark College, Iowa
Kansas City Art Institute
The Art Instititue of Chicago
University of Maryland
Miami University, Ohio
Southern Utah University
Winston-Salem State University
Fairhaven College (Western Washington University)
Black Hills State University
Pacific Lutheran University’s Rainier MFA in Writing
Collin County Community College, Georgia
Echo Horizon School
Santa Monica Community College 
Western Washington University
Union County College
Borough of Manhattan Community College
Pace University
Creative Writing Institute



awp.jpg (89262 bytes)  AWP Chronicle (serialization, January/February, 2006)

wd-april.jpg (15810 bytes) Writers Digest (serialization, April, 2006)

the-writer.jpg (12866 bytes) The Writer 
(serialization, April, 2006)

awp-march.jpg (52069 bytes)  AWP Chronicle (serialization, March/April, 2006)

* Authors Guild Bulletin (Winter, 2006)

Ink Pellet Magazine (redacted serialization, May, 2006) (UK)

Writers’ Forum Magazine (review, May, 2006) (UK)

The Times of India (May, 2009) — “What’s in a CEO’s library?”

NPR affiliate New Hampshire Public Radio, March 29, 2007 (click here to listen)
Writers on Writing radio show (one hour), Orange County, CA, June 21, 2007 (click here to listen) (scroll down on page)

National Speakers Association 
one hour tele-seminar on the subject of writing, November, 2007 (click here to listen)

WriterUnboxed (interview, March, 2009)
National Punctuation Day (Recommended Resource, February, 2009)
The Writers Store e-zine (circ. 100,000) (serialization in four installments:  February 7, March 7, April 4 and May 2, 2006)
Amazon Shorts (Amazon Shorts home page feature and serialization of Chapter Seven, December, 2005–April, 2006)
Gotham Writers newsletter (circ. 70,000) (serialized in January, 08)

Backspace  (excerpt)
Prairiden (interview)
WebGrammar.com (Recommended Selection)
The Westminster Bookshop (review) (UK)

A selection of the Writers Digest Book Club
A selection of the Forbes.com Book Club

Author Appearances:

East End Books, East Hampton (Memorial Day weekend, May 27, 2006)
Labyrinth Books, New York City (April 10, 2007)
McNally Robinson (Soho), New York City (April 12, 2007)
BookCourt, Cobble Hill, Brooklyn (April 13, 2007)



AmazonGoogleB&N Ibooks

Noah Lukeman’s other titles:

cover        The Plot thickens          How to Write a Great Query Letter           M2 BIG

%d bloggers like this:
search previous next tag category expand menu location phone mail time cart zoom edit close