Let’s say we have a scenario wherein a man is meeting his long lost brother after twenty years of separation. He might say something like,
“It’s so good to see you!”
Perfectly acceptable, in my humble opinion; however, this is where some authors tend to go astray. Let’s continue this conversation, shall we?
“It’s so good to see you!”
“How are you?!”
“Wonderful! You look great!”
“I can’t believe this! I can’t wait to tell everyone!”
“I know! So amazing! How is everything?!”
Ow. My head is now officially pounding.
In effect, what is going on in this conversation is that the two men are yelling at each other. Personally, I am not a fan of a room full of yelling people. In fact, I tend to leave the room in that particular situation. It’s even worse in this case, because it’s just the two characters yelling at each other.
An exclamation point should be used for one reason only: to emphasize a point. To “exclaim” about a “point”, if you will. The overuse of exclamation points makes everything look exactly the same. Instead of the natural rise and fall of a story, it becomes one long yell. How is the reader supposed to differentiate between regular moments and more exciting ones when everything looks identical?
YA novels are often (not always!) salted liberally with exclamation points, presumedly representing teenage enthusiasm, energy, angst ...; however, using exclamation points too often makes a book looks even more ... um ... juvenile. And not in a good way. Oh, and even if your YA novel begs for an exclamation point, please, please promise me you’ll limit yourself to only using one at a time. Save multiples for texting, if you must.
Children’s books usually contain even more. I understand why, but just because kids get excited and yell a lot that doesn’t make it right. The reader shouldn’t have to believe each sentence is as important as every other one.
Of course there are exceptions. Here’s a scenario in which multiple exclamation points work because the characters are yelling.
“Look! It’s a U.F.O.!”
“Over there! Look!”
“Where - Hey, I see it! Cool!”
“Wow. It looks like it’s coming this way,” Jim said, squinting toward the ship.
Pete nodded slowly. “Yeah, pretty quickly, too.”
After a moment of staring at the rapidly approaching lights, the men exchanged a glance of concern, then Jim spoke up. “How fast can you run?”
Pete took off. “All that matters is that I can run faster than you!” he yelled back over his shoulder.
I read a rule somewhere advising authors to limit their use of exclamation points to one per page. I’m not a great believer in writing rules, per se, but I do agree with the idea behind this one.
Can you use better nouns or verbs instead of having to resort to exclamation points?
How about using dialogue tags to indicate excitement? For example, instead of “It’s so great to see you!”, try something like: “It’s so great to see you,” he said, beaming with joy. That simple difference imparts so much more emotion for the reader, as well as getting rid of exclamation points.
Some people use excessive semi-colons; some find joy in dotting their pages with exclamation points. Both tools should be used in moderation, if at all. Their ultimate function is to provide an editor with one more thing to delete or replace.
Okay, everyone. Back to work!