Writing: Those Horrid Exclamation Points

For my next few posts, I’ve decided to focus on certain “writing rules” which are circulating around writing forums causing waves of panic.

These include:

No exclamation points!

No adverbs

No saidisms

Naturally, my take on these is just that.  My own.   There are many writers who may happily disagree with me.

Okay,  today let’s look at those horrid exclamation points.

There was a time that novels overflowed with them.   You’ll find an abundance in classic literature of the 19th. c.   But they later reached their zenith in pulp novels.

Here are a few made-up examples:

1.  He entered the room.  It was empty!  The killer had escaped out the window!

2.  She opened her mouth in utter horror!  She tried to scream but no sound would come out!  She was paralyzed with fear.  The man had a gun!

3.  “Oh, Maria!  You are so beautiful!”

Is it any wonder that a new movement came in declaring the exclamation point over-the-top and childish?  Writers were urged not to use them.

Now, many writers are afraid to ever use an exclamation point.   Let’s diminish their fears.

True, exclamation points are hardly ever necessary in prose.  Avoid them there unless you want to remind readers of the ’60s Batman show.

However, let’s look at dialogue.  If a character is stuck in a burning building,  “Help!”  looks a lot more fitting than, “Help.”

Used very sparingly and in the right places- exclamation points are not the horrid punctuation marks they’ve been made out to be.  (perhaps not even in the rare prose)

Published in: on October 21, 2008 at 12:13 pm  Comments (11)  
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11 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. I agree with you. Most of the writing-books I’ve read (all two of them, hehehe) also say that the exclamation-mark should be used cautiously.

    Besides: “”What sort of person,” said Salzella patiently, “sits down and writes a maniacal laugh? And all those exclamation marks, you notice? Five? A sure sign of someone who wears his underpants on his head.”” (Maskerade, Terry Pratchett) 😉

  2. Totally agree! LOL!!!!!…!!!!! ~Karen

  3. I would venture to say that all of those “rules” are not really rules but general guidelines. That includes the use of exclamation points. I like your example of the burning building. It illustrates the point well.

  4. And it’s far more effective than, “Help?”

  5. Hi Bookdragonette,

    “Ahahahahaha! Ahahahaha! Aahahaha!
    Yrs sincerely
    The Opera Ghost

    — (Terry Pratchett, Maskerade)”

    Love Pratchett. The best part of Maskerade was Nanny Ogg’s Cookbook. That killed me. 🙂

  6. Hi there Karen,

    I like when someone totally agrees with me!!!!!!!!!!!!!


  7. Hey K.S.

    You hit it on the nail. That it should be taken as a “guideline” and not some absolute rule. (As some writers are now unfortunately taking it. And needlessly worrying their heads over)

    Which, of course, is why my title, “Those Horrid Horrid Exclamation Points” is in jest. 🙂

  8. Colby,

    You totally crack me up. Always a good thing! 🙂

  9. Tasha, you’ve won the I Love Your Blog Award!

    Please check your email for the details I sent to you. : )



  10. I’m not sure I’ve ever used an exclamation point in narrative, but in dialogue, sure, occasionally. (do I get dinged for the adverb in that sentence?) Tonight I was watching the local news and the little title bar under the person who was being interviewed said “Torture viticm speaks out!!!!” A misspelled word and four exclamation points. I had a lot of time to count them since I was on the treadmill and this item stayed up for a while!

  11. Hey there Rachel, 🙂

    That’s funny about counting the exclamation points while on the treadmill.

    Nope- you certainly don’t get dinged for using an adverb. Not here, anyhow! Adverbs are like spice. A little bit adds flavor.

    The reason I wanted to post on this issue was, I have seen some people post on AW, worried because they’ve used an exclamation point in dialogue. The paranoia really has gotten so great that some people really think you can never use them AT ALL.

    I wanted to point out the fear of using the occasional exclamation point is as silly as the overuse of them.

    They’re a punctuation mark. And sometimes they fit!

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