Friday, November 9, 2012

Exclamation Mark: Its Use and Abuse!

In an ebook titled Write Good or Die, edited by thriller author Scott Nicholson, was an article written by Nicholson titled Seven Bad Habits of Highly Unsuccessful Writers. In the article Nicholson, who had worked as a freelance editor and journalist for several years, reminded writers of a handful of minor problems that can "sap the vitality out of an otherwise compelling story." These included proper comma usage, point of view confusion, too many useless mannerisms, the use of adverbs, and the importance of clarity when using "he said" and "she said" in dialogue.

He also mentioned the overuse of exclamation marks in writing. Nicholson advises writers to “hoard your exclamation points and only dole them out when necessary.” He further states that dependence on them indicates a lack of power in your action sentences.

I personally haven’t noticed the overuse of exclamation marks in my general reading, but I have noticed that they seem to be prolific in online writing, emails, and text messages. There are even websites and blogs that discuss the overuse of exclamation points. One site titled Excessive Exclamation!! shows, as an example, a shot of a Carl’s Jr. receipt on which is printed:

Please let us know how we did!!!

In his article,Nicholson advises:

Adding a bit of visual oomph or dialogue tag is a better choice: "‘Look out,’ he shouted, diving for cover as bullets zinged overhead." The word "shouted" does the work of the exclamation point, though if you are in the book’s climax or a particularly brisk and intense scene, then one or two can do the work of unnecessary words, too. In this case, I’d let "Look out!" slide, assuming exclamation points weren’t already hopping all over the page like drunk celebrities begging for tabloid coverage. Anyone using two or more exclamation points together will not only be rejected but taken out and shot!!!

His point about exclamation marks reminded me of an old Seinfield episode I saw years ago when Elaine, who worked as an editor for a New York publishing house, purposely peppered her boyfriend’s manuscript with exclamation marks because she was upset with him. This got her in trouble with her publisher boss. For fun, below is a short clip of the episode:

You can find Nicholson's entire article here.

While contemplating the use of exclamation marks, remember to check out our Events page for writing-related happenings in the coming weeks.

Have a wonderful weekend.

Scott Nicholson is the author of 10 thrillers, including the Bram Stoker finalist The Red Church, Drummer Boy, Disintegration, and The Skull Ring. He’s published over 60 stories in seven countries, as well as numerous writing articles, five screenplays, several comic books, and magazine features. He’s won three North Carolina Press Association Awards as a newspaper reporter and also has a freelance manuscript editing business, in addition to hosting pop-culture shows and an annual paranormal conference. More information at

1 comment:

Jennifer Rova said...

Love this post! Extra exclamations points are a pet peeve of mine. I am so glad you devoted a post to this. I agree with Nicholson that using more than one exclamation point is the sign of a lazy writer who wants to convey conviction about his point or humor but won't take the time to find a good verb so uses several exclamation points.