Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Common Problems (Part 3 of 50)

The second purple-prose punctuation problem is the exclamation mark. If you consider the exclamation mark noisy and loud, you'll probably get rid of it. I often tell students, "The most obvious mark of insecure writers is the use of the exclamation mark. They shout a lot because they don't trust their ability to communicate effectively."

(And yes, in my early writing days, I seasoned my manuscripts with exclamation marks.) Here are a few examples from my students.

• It came from below them!

• Jean shivered!

• Of course he would not give it back!

• How luxurious the life of a bride would be!

Don't use the exclamation mark—
unless nothing else works.


  1. When I was a new writer, I used exclamation marks all the time. Marlene said, well, that's how you talk. Ha! Anyway, I've learned to control myself, and now I find exclamation marks bother me when they are used too much.

    I've also learned we shouldn't use them outside of dialog.

  2. I see what you mean! (LOL, couldn't resist.)


  3. I smiled at Pam's comments. They're typical of many of us writers in our early days. If I had received a lifetime allowance of 999,000 exclamation points, I probably used all but about 100 of them during my first years of writing for publication.

    Pam (and others), think of it this way: It says we're learning. We're improving.

  4. Miss Mollie suggests exclamation marks (EM) are all right in dialog. My response: Why?

    The EM is not evil punctuation, but there are usually better ways to cast a sentence. Think of the EM as shouting, screaming, yelling, or whatever loud, insistent word you prefer.

    I don’t like being around people who yell at me. Do you?

    Use this rule in all your writing: If you can’t figure out any other mark of puncuation that works, use the EM.

    I could have ended the previous sentence with the EM but my meaning is clear without a microphone (EM).

  5. I suppose an exclamation mark would be used in dialog if "she exclaimed."
    How about if "he yelled?"
    Let me try it. "He's coming at me with a knife!" she exclaimed to the 911 operator.
    "I'm here on the other side of the river," he yelled, hoping she would find him before blood loss landed him on the fatality list. Or should there be an EM after "river?"
    I don't know. There are so many other ways to tell the same stories, I suppose you could kill the exclamation marks there as well, especially if you leave out dialog.
    What do you think of my examples?

  6. Sure, that works but I wouldn't do it. I'd recast the sentence. Why use such words as yelled and exclaimed? By using the exclamation mark it's like wring, "Yelling, he yelled."

    She dialed 911. "He's coming at me with a knife!"

    It's a matter of choice, isn't it? You don't have to like my examples or agree with me. When I write these tips, I hope readers will read, ponder, and choose what they want to do.

  7. Great examples and as you said Cec, writing is a process. Thank you for the explanation. Just asking the questions. I like the idea that our verb tells the exclamation point.


What are your thoughts?