When I wrote my first draft, everyone that raised their voice or yelled had one of these beauties ending their sentence ! The exclamation point. I must confess, I used punctuation incorrectly. I probably still do from time to time, especially the over used exclamation point.
Exclaim means to shout out, blurt or say with force. The exclamation point is used to emphasise such an outburst of vocal emotion.
So why is it over used? Some older writings popularized it by replacing emotional reactions with ! instead of showing the emotional reaction. Now with social media, it is used as often as a vowel. When we write an email, post, text or whatever when emotionally charged the exclamations multiply like Mogwai in water.
!!! The triple threat !!! Sometimes these triplets drag along a few more if someone is screaming or whatever. I don’t do this ever. One is more than enough and even then, is it necessary? I already knew about the three punctuation in a row rule from work. !!! ??? is spam material, and a horrible way to express feeling in writing. Emails containing them can be flagged by spam filters and firewalls. Also to never ever use them on a resume or technical report.
Mixology 101. Mixing the punctuation. Nope, nope and nope. Never !?! ?!? Again, one punctuation is enough!
Inappropriate tone. “I didn’t know!” – What tone of voice is that?
Angry? Snotty? Confused? Desperate? Sad? Remorseful?
I find these all the time in my rough drafts.
Unidentified fervent outbursts.
What do I do about them? Dress them up and show the emotion behind the exclamation point. It’s not always about yelling.
Sasha slammed her fist on the desktop. “I didn’t know!”
“I didn’t know!” Sasha hid her face with her hands.
Sasha covered her mouth with her hand. “I didn’t know!” She couldn’t look away.
The tears fell unchecked as Sasha sat hard on the couch. “I didn’t know!”
Rhetorically speaking. Ending rhetorical questions with and exclamation point is tempting and common. Also unnecessary. Rhetorical questions can be ended in periods, exclamation points or question marks. It’s not a real question and I’m not yelling or blurting it and it’s usually obvious enough that the exclamation point is redundant.
My conversations were littered with them. So when do I use them or leave them? Only when it’s important. I use the search/find feature and take a good hard look. Here are some examples of okay use.
Excitement – “Wow that’s amazing!”
Urgent – “You have to go, now!”
Astonished – “I can’t believe you just said that!”
Vehemence – “I hate this!”
Shock – “You didn’t!”
Warning – “Look out!”
And so on. It’s not rocket science. I personally don’t enjoy seeing them in abundance in my writing if they can be avoided I take them out.I was told once that the reader isn’t likely an idiot and if you write well they will know the person is yelling without !!! or saying ‘he yelled’. It is my job to bring the reader in and settle them into the story and let them experience it. Tossing “!” in every time someone talks is annoying. Imagine if we actually spoke that way, we’d be yelling and blurting things constantly and over dramatizing a simple conversation.
Joe slogged down the hall his feet thumping loudly on the floor, but he couldn’t feel them. “I hate this!”
“I can’t believe you drank that much!” Sasha giggled holding him up.
“I know right!” Joe said. “I never do. What will mother think!”
“Oh no! You had better not go home tonight! Crash at my place I’ll send her a text.”
“I’m gonna puke!!!” Joe said doubling over and vomiting the beer and pizza on the floor.
I feel anxious just reading that and not because it’s tense, I’m not so sure it should be. NOt to mention how awkward that was. Let me try again.
With numb feet, Joe slogged down the hall. “I hate this!”
“I can’t believe you chugged five beers.” Sasha shook her head, giggled at his slurred speech. She held him steady, moving toward the exit quickly.
“I know right! What will my mother think?”
Sasha’s eyes widened at the prospect of dropping him at home. “Crash at my place, I’ll text her to let her know.”
Joe burped and gagged. “I’m gonna puke.”
“Oh no.” Sasha pulled him along faster, outside would be better.
The fresh air did little to help him as he gave his pizza and beer to the sidewalk.
Much better, less ! made for a better conversation. In my opinion.
My advice about exclaiming everything with exclamation marks.