Do You Suffer From Exclamation Glut?

Do you suffer from exclamation point glut? Not sure? Do a “Find” and type the exclamation point (!) in. How many do you have in your manuscript? More than one? If so, is its use justified?

The exclamation point is often used in text messages. Sometimes in abundance!!! But please don’t use them in abundance in a novel. By definition, the exclamation point (or mark) is used after an interjection or exclamation to indicate forceful utterance or strong feeling. Or, it might be used to indicate something of major significance, interest, or contrast.

Properly used the exclamation mark expresses excitement, surprise, astonishment, or any other such strong emotion. Used for anything less than that tells the reader (an agent or editor) the writer doesn’t know the proper usage of the exclamation point.

F. Scott Fitzgerald once said, “An exclamation point is like laughing at your own joke.” Do not use even one of these marks unless you’re convinced it is justified.

And one may be enough. As Terry Pratchett once wrote: ‘Five exclamation marks, the sure sign of an insane mind.’

Mark Forsyth, author of The Elements of Eloquence: How to turn the perfect English phrase, said: ‘I’m usually relaxed to the point of torpor about punctuation, but exclamation marks are the one thing that rouses me to furious, vengeful violence. I don’t mind it when it’s being used for an exclamation [“Oh heavens!”] or and ejaculation [“Stop!”]. ‘But when you use it for an amazing fact [“The pyramids are 5,000 years old!!”], I want to drown you. The essential reason is that, if the fact is amazing, you don’t need an exclamation mark; and if it’s not, it shouldn’t be there.’

Interestingly, women use exclamation marks more than men do, according to research published by the Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication.

What’s worse than using the exclamation mark too many times in a manuscript? Using them incorrectly. It is a punctuation mark that should go at the end of the sentence. It should not be used in combination with another punctuation mark, and there shouldn’t be more than one at the end of a sentence.

Right?! Yes!!!

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4 Responses to Do You Suffer From Exclamation Glut?

  1. Sue Merrell says:

    Good subject, Maris. Of course you are right from a grammatical standpoint. I can’t think of any occasion in 40 years of writing for newspapers where I used an exclamation point. Maybe in a quote or two. But in “real” writing it isn’t done. Today’s social media is not the grammar we were raised on. however. A text or a tweet or a Facebook post is all about shouting. The exclamation point becomes like a smiley face or a thumbs up.

    • Maris Soule says:

      I don’t mind them in text messages or tweets, Sue, but it does bother me when I see a half-dozen on a manuscripts page. That is, unless the characters are actually yelling at each other that often.

  2. Good advice. I do try to limit my use of exclamation points and semi-colons. Both are in disfavor these days as are adverbs.

    • Maris Soule says:

      I just checked my latest WIP and have 27 exclamation points. I’ll need to make sure each is needed. As you said, Jacqui, both the exclamation point and semi-colon are in disfavor.