“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
- 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
8 thoughts on “Use Exclamation Marks Sparingly”
Some persons write as they speak, overusing exclamation marks, not realizing that writing and speaking are two different means of communicating.
Others love to use capital letters where not needed. As the editor of our church newsletter, I have to keep changing submissions frequently, even though I point it out to the offenders.
Thank you for writing. I love hearing from you.I understand your concern with the overuse of capital letters and exclamation marks when people submit items for your church newsletter. It can be frustrating when advice meets ears that cannot hear it. I pray that God grant you patience and the writers wisdom. Thanks for following me all these years.
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Never Give Up
I like the “laughing at your own joke” quote. I’ll have to remember that when I am tempted to use an exclamation mark. Thanks for your keeping us on our toes, Joan.
Thanks a bunch for writing. It is always a pleasure to hear from you. I’m glad you liked the “laughing at your own joke” quote. It made me laugh, too. It’s good to know that we can go hog wild with exclamation points in our informal writing…like emails and such. Enjoy your day.
Never Give Up
I try not to use exclamation points at all, but sometimes they are a necessary evil. Before a final version, I do a search on the pesky things and eliminate as many as possible.
Thanks so much for writing. It is good to hear from you. I believe doing a search for the exclamation points and eliminate as many as possible before the final version of a manuscript is a great idea. You do a great job of editing your books. I love reading them. Keep on writing!
Never Give Up
Great reminder, Joan. As I go through my ms, I’ll keep this advice in mind!! (what about doubles. Are they allowed?) 🙂
Thank you for writing. I’m glad you thought my post was a great reminder not to overuse exclamation points. In your informal writing, doubles are okay. Formal writing I don’t think they would smile on them. LOL
Never Give Up