Macy
Posted at May 15, 2020
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Writing Tips: Exclamation! (And Why They Don’t Belong in Your Novel)

Exclamation.  All writers are tempted to use them.  Most writers do use them.  But are they lame?  Overused?  Unnecessary?  Yes, to all the above.

 

These little guys (!!!!) have no place in your novel.  Sure, you see them in published works, but if you want your writing to jump off the page with lovely description and action that “shows” instead of “tells,” exclamation marks need to be removed in your later drafts to keep all the beauty in your manuscript.

 

In narrative, sometimes authors use exclamation to stress the importance of an action.  For example: I walked into the closet.  John was standing right there!  That little mark at the end of your sentence gives your narrative a kiddish tone, and it will read a bit like a children’s’ book.  It’s artificial, basically.  To avoid feeling the need to use exclamation marks, try describing the moment in more detail.
For example: I walked into the closet, and my heart plummeted to the ground.  The darkness from behind the doors crept around my body.  John was standing right there.
Notice how much more of an impact that last sentence had.  It didn’t need exclamation to really pack the punch you were looking for.  The prior intense description makes the fact that John was standing in the closet appear more substantial.

 

Exclamation in dialogue is also an issue, because if you describe the speakers’ emotions well enough, you won’t need exclamation to point out how excited or angry your characters are.  Again, this is a form of “telling” instead of “showing.”
An example of what not to do:
“John, I missed you when you were gone!”
“I missed you, too, Ashley!”
“Let’s go to dinner tonight and catch up!”

Instead, try something like:
John approached, and joy swarmed me from the inside out.  We embraced before I said, “John, I missed you when you were gone.”
He released me, a smile stretching across his face.  “I missed you, too, Ashley.”
“Let’s go to dinner tonight and catch up.”  I smiled back at him, standing on my tiptoes.

Here, you can see that through the description of the characters’ emotions how excited they are to see each other, eliminating the need for exclamation marks.  With description, the dialogue is much more pleasant to read, leaving out the childish tone from your novel.

 

Overall, remember that exclamation marks “tell” your action instead of “show” it.  Another good tip that I’ve learned through the years is to write exclamation in my rough draft and then edit it back out in my later drafts.  Doing this will help with keeping you focused on writing your manuscript instead of worrying about heavy description in the first draft.  Do what you feel comfortable with.  Just polish up once you’re finished.

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