Another  “Do Not Do” item from January 10th.

At a Writing Conference and Workshop last year, an agent declared there should be “no more than one exclamation point (!) per 50 pages.” Mmm. Does she count them, and should the poor ignorant writer go beyond the quota, will the book immediately get scrubbed from consideration? Elmore Leonard is quoted as saying, “Keep your exclamation points under control. You are allowed no more than two or three per 100,000 words of prose.” Strict adherence, or tongue-in-cheek? You decide.

Although overuse of the exclamation point detracts from otherwise well-written prose, they have their places, just not many. Specifically, the exclamation point is used at the end of a word, phrase, or sentence to indicate a strong emotion or statement, and in dialogue to show a rising voice. The problem, I believe, is the misuse of the punctuation mark, as in,

“Stop!” he yelled.

The he yelled makes the exclamation mark unnecessary, and in fact, redundant. The “tag,” he yelled (screamed, shouted, hollered) is often a better way for the character to “exclaim,” though I dislike the “Stop,” he exclaimed choice.

The exclamation point can be a powerful tool, and its usage needs to be saved for those perfect times; they jump off the page, but too many will flag the writing as amateurish and deter from the intended impact.

Bonnie whirled and fled.
She did not look back.

Bonnie whirled and fled.
“Stop,” he yelled, but she ignored him.

Bonnie whirled and fled. He called for her to stop; she increased her pace.

Returning to an example used on last week’s post (when discussing comma usage) from my novel, The Returning, below is the continuation of the scene:

“You know I would have given my life to protect your goods but there was no opportunity to stand and face them like a man and—”

“Silence!” King Theldron stood and turned from the sniveling merchant. “Leave me,” he said.

It is true I can cast the sentence in a variety of ways; I chose the exclamation point in order to 1) show the King’s impatience, and 2) to indicate the rising of his voice.

Like all language tools, exclamation points fulfill a purpose, a specific purpose whose power is lost when they dot a page. One last thing: NEVER use more than one at a time—leave that for Facebook.

See you on the next page,