Writing Tip: Exclamation Points!

Power of WordsWriting Tip: Exclamation Points!

This lesson will be short and sweet. Exclamation points annoy editors. They annoy readers, too, even if only on a subconscious level. Why?

They’re lazy. And tacky. They’re a mark of an inexperienced writer.

The bottom line: Use exclamation marks sparingly. Instead, let your language do the work.

Here’s an example:

It’s raining outside!

The exclamation mark tells me, as a reader, that there’s something exciting or important about the rain, right? But what? Instead of using an exclamation mark, choose more specific, precise language to bring a clearer message to the reader. The message should still contain an “inherent sense of exclamation,” but the punctuation mark itself should not be necessary.

For instance:

The rain pounded the window, pushing through the tiny crack at the bottom. (Inherent sense of exclamation: The house is going to be flooded!)

The rain obliterated the convertible. (Inherent sense of exclamation: Should have put that top up!)

The rain soaked into the drought-dried dust, speckling it with life-giving water. (Inherent sense of exclamation: There won’t be a second Dust Bowl!)

Noah had been right after all. The flood started with three heavy drops that announced a deluge. (Inherent sense of exclamation: A flood of Biblical proportions!)

All of the above sentences contain an inherent sense of excitement, but the language of each sentence already implies the excitement. In these instances, an added exclamation mark would just look tacky.

The rain pounded the window, pushing through the tiny crack at the bottom!

The rain obliterated the convertible!

The rain soaked into the drought-dried dust, speckling it with life-giving waters!

Noah had been right after all! The flood started with three heavy drops that announced a deluge.

Tacky.

And unnecessary.

Exclamation marks don’t have to be eliminated entirely, but as a general rule, if you can show it with language, avoid using an exclamation mark.

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