It’s easy to get carried away with exclamation points. After all, they lend excitement to your writing! Actually though, an overabundance of this type of punctuation will annoy readers, unless used sparingly and appropriately.
When is it appropriate to use an exclamation point? Almost always in fiction, they should be limited to dialogue and inner monologue (ie, the character’s thoughts). Occasionally if the book is told from a first-person point of view, an exclamation point can be used in the character’s narrative. But even if using within dialogue, be aware of how often you’re using the punctuation. Peppering your book with exclamation points is like little explosives going off all the time in your writing. But if you use them carefully, they can detonate at just the right time.
Here’s a paragraph with too many exclamation points:
I wasn’t dressed to impress in my ragged leather skirt, but at least we might score a free drink! We went up to the dark lounge, where a bouncer was sitting on a stool with a checklist. I wondered why they needed a door-minder, but once we got inside, the crowd was pretty upscale!
See how differently this reads without the annoying !!!s:
I wasn’t dressed to impress in my ragged leather skirt, but at least we might score a free drink. We went up to the dark lounge, where a bouncer was sitting on a stool with a checklist. I wondered why they needed a door-minder, but once we got inside, the crowd was pretty upscale
Here’s an example of an exclamation point used within dialogue:
I found Erin on her knees in front of the copy machine. “Got it!” She extracted an inky wad.
Here’s an exclamation point used within first-person narrative:
I couldn’t believe someone had thrown out a perfectly good table—it wasn’t even large garbage night! At last I could get rid of the stacked milk crates in my kitchen.
I hope these tips have been helpful. Have a question about writing? Comment or email me at email@example.com
Leslie Wells has edited forty-nine New York Times bestsellers in her thirty-year publishing career. She is the author of Come Dancing, a novel about book publishing and rock and roll, set in New York City in the 1980s. Visit her at http://www.lesliewellsbooks.com
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