“Use Exclamation Marks Sparingly” by Joan Y. Edwards
I know you’ve read articles or books in which the author overused the exclamation point. I have, too.
Merriam-Webster states that the exclamation point is a mark used especially after an interjection or exclamatory sentence to indicate forceful utterance or strong feeling.
Grammar.Your Dictionary.com says that exclamation marks were introduced into the English language in the 15th century. However, on typewriters, they didn’t have a separate key until the 1970s.
According to Grammar Monster, an interjection is a word added to a sentence, usually at the beginning, to convey an emotion or a sentiment such as surprise, disgust, joy, excitement, or enthusiasm. After interjections, use exclamation points all the time. Here are a few:
Uh oh! I’m in big trouble now.
Yikes! It’s cold in here.
Here is a link to a long list of interjection words:
With informal writing, you can go haywire using exclamation marks. However, in formal writing you have a choice of using the exclamation mark or not. Professional writers may differ on how many times you should use an exclamation mark in your manuscripts, but they tell you to use them sparingly. Don’t use them unless it is absolutely necessary. It’s your choice.
Cut out all these exclamation points…An exclamation point is like laughing at your own joke.
— F. Scott Fitzgerald
Elmore Leonard in his Ten Rules of Writing, offered a rule about exclamation points. He stated, “You are allowed no more than two or three per 100,000 words of prose.”
Research of Ben Blatt shows that even the expert writers have trouble sticking to this rule:
With 100,000 words
Elmore Leonard used 49 per 100,000 words
Hemingway used 59 per 100,000 words
James Joyce used 1,105 per 100,000 words
I would say that in a picture book or chapter book that 3 exclamation points would be okay. Use them only in dialogue.
Use the rules people have as guides, not hard and fast rules.
If you’re using an exclamation point to show someone’s shouting and they shout a lot in your story, your readers are going to get tired of the exclamation points. When readers notice your punctuation marks, BINGO. They are out of your story. You don’t want that. Staying in the story is a must for a reader to finish your book. You need a diversionary tactic from the exclamation marks.
Show, Don’t tell
Use words to show the excitement, not exclamation marks..
Check the manuscript you’re working on now. Use FIND and put in the exclamation mark. It will highlight the exclamation points in this manuscript.
Read them over. Decide if you need to edit these sentences to make your manuscript stronger.
As a writer, you hear the following words in your head all the time, “Show, don’t tell.” That’s what you need to remember when exclamation marks tempt you to put them at the end of too many sentences.
Be creative. Choose words to show the anger or other strong emotion so that you don’t need the exclamation points. Choose descriptive words to show your character’s great excitement or tension. Choose words that explain the situation precisely so that the reader understands that the situation is funny, scary, surprising, matter of life or death, ironic, extremely sad without the exclamation mark.
Here are a few lines of dialogue to show great emotion, surprise without exclamation marks.
Use exclamation marks or wonderfully clever words. Author’s choice.
- Betsy said, “I won first place in the Young Chef contest!”
- Betsy flew through the door waving the Blue Ribbon in her hand, “Mom, I won the Blue Ribbon.”
- John said, “It is so hot that eggs will fry quickly on my bald head.”
- John said, “It’s hot but frying eggs on my head isn’t an option!”
- Sam ripped the pants his Mother made especially for him. “Mom is going to be mad with a capital M.”
- Sam heard a big rippp! “The fence tore a hole in the new pants Mom stayed up all night making them for me. She is going to be mad.”
I hope this post has helped you ponder the idea of whether you are using too many exclamation marks or whether your usage, like Goldilocks is “Just Right.”
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Joan Y. Edwards
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- Ben Blatt. “Curb Your Enthusiasm:” https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2017/03/curb-your-enthusiasm/513833/
- Ben Blatt. “Nabokov’s Favorite Word Is Mauve: What the Numbers Reveal About the Classics, Bestsellers, and Our Own Writing” http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ISBN=1501105388/theatla05-20/:
- Grammar.Your Dictionary.com. “When to Use Exclamation Marks:” https://grammar.yourdictionary.com/punctuation/when/when-to-use-exclamation-marks.html
- https://www.writegoodbooks.com/why-are-you-shouting-at-me/ . “Why Are You Shouting at Me?”
- Julia McCoy. “How to Use an Exclamation Point Properly – How Not to Use It:” https://www.grammarly.com/blog/how-to-use-an-exclamation-point-properly-how-not-to-use-it/
- Kat Booggard. “A Friendly Person’s Guide to Exclamation Marks Correctly and Incorrectly: ” https://www.themuse.com/advice/a-friendly-persons-guide-to-using-exclamation-marks-correctly-and-incorrectly
- Peter Rey. “6 Easy Tips on How to Use the Exclamation Point in Creative Writing:” https://www.peterrey.com/use-exclamation-point-creative-writing/
- Reddit.com. “Exclamation Points: How Many Is Too Many? When should I use them? Are there alternatives? https://www.reddit.com/r/writing/comments/4bpnti/exclamation_points_how_many_is_too_many_when/
- Writers Toolbox. “Elmore Leonard 10 Rules for Good Writing:” https://www.writingclasses.com/toolbox/tips-masters/elmore-leonard-10-rules-for-good-writing