Speared by Exclamations

Hey, look! I survived the plane ride. As did my baby. All is well in the world. . . .Except for the exclamation points that have threatened to skewer me as of late.

I’ve noticed that sometimes authors go a little overboard in the use of the exclamation. Who am I to talk though? Me and my plethora of !!s in emails, g-chat, and possibly blog posts. But never in my writing. I’ve promised myself that I can’t put it in writing.

In a few books I’ve read lately, notably middle grade novels, I’ve seen more !s on one page than I would ever consider putting in an entire novel.

The problem I have with this use of punctuation is that at some point the character seems to be constantly yelling or is a spastic, hyper kid that just won’t calm down. I have an example, but first, a disclaimer: I am enjoying this book immensely. So, author of the following paragraph, please don’t be sad if you read this. And now the example:

“I can only leave my house when the sun goes down,” he confided. Then, before he could stop himself, the words were spilling out, “I’m allergic to sun particles! If I stay one minute in the sunlight, I get seriously ill! If sun particles touch my skin, I’ll burn up! I could die, that’s how bad it is.”

On the same page as this paragraph, there are four other exclamation points, making a grand total of seven on one page. In this little paragraph, the information is interesting enough–it doesn’t need added emphasis to clue the reader in to its coolness. And just by saying “before he could stop himself, the words were spilling out,” we are shown that he might be spitting out this information quickly or excitedly. We don’t need the ! after every sentence to give us that.

In general, dialogue and clues given around the dialogue are enough to express emotion. Think about times when you speak. There are times when I would say I speak with an exclamation point, but it’s usually in small moments and it’s only a word or two: “What!?”, “Ah!”, “Oh my gosh!”, and the “Hey, look!” at the beginning of this post.

Think about those times when you are definitely speaking in !s. Now read that example in the same tone. Yelling or spastic hyperactive, right?

So my advice on the matter is to consider with great seriousness every exclamation point you put in your writing (emails not included:) ). Is the character so excited that this sentence needs an exclamation? I tend to agree with this advice: “Writers are allowed three exclamation points . . . in their entire lives.” Maybe I’m not quite that strict. But almost.

Here’s another, perhaps more reasonable, guide for using !s: “You are allowed no more than two or three per 100,000 words of prose.” (Elmore Leonard, from The New York Times’ Writers on Writing, “Easy on the Adverbs, Exclamation Points and Especially Hooptedoodle”)

Do you agree that writers should limit exclamations? Exclamation users–your defense?

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About Karen Krueger

I write for teens when I'm not chasing after two cute kids. I love to sing and eat cereal (though not at the same time), and I most certainly am not a vampire because I'm addicted to sunshine.
This entry was posted in Q4U, Writing and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Speared by Exclamations

  1. Cherylynne says:

    I’m reading the Cirque Du Freak books, and the exclamation points are definitely the most annoying thing about them! It’s so frustrating!!! They’re supposed to be teen books, but the exclamation points make them seem like they’re written for ten year olds! I’d really enjoy them if they’d take out all the exclamation points! Other than that, they’re really scary and great for people looking for horror!

    I’m sure you’re loving my comment!
    Cheryl!

  2. Thanks, Cheryl! I do love your comment! 🙂 It’s very entertaining! Ha!

  3. Colleen/Mom says:

    Fun, fun, fun — Karen and Cheryl! Thanks for the laugh and the food for thought.

  4. Annette says:

    I’ve known a person who speaks with exclamation marks after every sentence. Uber hyper. So I would only expect that her writing would contain a bajillion exclamation marks, if she were being true to voice. And now that I’m aware of the criteria (two or three per one hundred thousand words-?!), excuse me while I go delete the insane amount of !’s I’ve written over my life. Mea culpa. And I love your blog, Karen. (I wanted to put an exclamation mark after that last sentence.)

    • Oh no, no, no….I would have to say that the ! rule only applies in my mind to fiction. I’m too much in love with !s in my other writing to be that strict.
      So I add in that exclamation at the end for you. My blog is awesome! 🙂

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