Exclamation Points. Lose them!
Now, will a plethora of exclamation points keep me from buying a book? Probably not by themselves. However, the overuse of exclamation points is often a substitute for strong writing. Plus, exclamation points are distracting, smack of insecure writing, and yes, will almost all come out in the edits.
So what should you use instead?
Show emphasis with your character’s words and the action he takes while saying them. Take a look at this snippet of dialogue.
John grabbed my hand. “Stop that.”
“Let go.” I met and held his angry gaze. “Now.”
Obviously, there’s emphasis in both characters’ dialogue. However, no exclamation points are needed. In fact, exclamation points would distract from the tension between the characters.
So, does that mean there is never a place for exclamation points? Of course not.
John jumped to his feet and pointed to the balcony. “Fire!”
However, 99% of the time, exclamation points are overkill. One of the other Bell Editors jokes that she allows no more than four exclamation points per manuscript. That might, actually, be too many.
Okay, while an occasional exclamation point is appropriate, there are two other misuses of exclamation points that I see. Let me say. . .
Never, ever, ever use multiple exclamation points!!!!!!
Yes, we all use them in our emails, blogs, tweets and facebook page. But there is no place for multiple exclamation points in professional fiction.
The second no-no is simple incorrect punctuation.
Can you guess?!
That’s it, the question mark exclamation point combination is never correct.
So, pull out your manuscripts and see if you have a love affair with the exclamation point. If you do, start pulling them out, replacing them with stronger dialogue and better dialogue tags. Because using fewer exclamation points, is one less way to drive an editor crazy.