My reality TV of choice is the true crime variety that airs on Investigation Discovery, the channel that features such inimitable classics as BrideKillas, Murder Loves Company, Deadly Dentists and Elder Skelter. But every once in a while, I’ll tune into non-murdery reality TV. A favorite: My Strange Addiction.
Maybe it’s because I’m fascinated by tales of deep and meaningful relationships with puppets. Maybe it’s because I’m curious about the long-term effects of daily bee stings. Or maybe it’s because I can relate—at least a little—to the compulsions chronicled.
You see, I have my own obsession: exclamation points.
My gateway into this punctuation infatuation was the world of advertising. As a baby copywriter, I was encouraged to use exclamation points—or their street name, exclamation marks—with reckless abandon.
An invitation to join a contest was always “Enter to win!” Sometimes in all caps. Often encapsulated in a starburst graphic.
Same went for introductions of new products, pleas to call or log on now, and that evergreen come-hither: Learn more today!
Once I started using exclamation points, I couldn’t (or more accurately, wouldn’t) stop.
It began to creep into my other writing.
Letters to distant aunts.
Soon I had developed a tolerance. One exclamation point would no longer suffice. I began using two, three or four at a time. When that wouldn’t do, I’d go to all caps. Then came the emojis.
Sentences went from staid (and some may say sane) “Can’t wait to see you.” to “Can’t WAIT to see you!!!!!! ❤ ❤ ❤ !!!”
My motives were pure. I wanted to make sure readers understood where I was coming from. I endeavored to ensure that my enthusiasm, happiness, excitement or concern leapt of the page, or at the very least wouldn’t be lost in a medium where neither my face nor voice would be present to set the tone or do the emotional heavy lifting.
The turning point came when the editor of my first book annotated my manuscript with the note, “Please reduce your number of exclamation points.”
“Great!!” I responded. “Like, half? Whatever you recommend is great by me!!!! 🙂 🙂 ”
To which she replied: “More like 95%. Just include a few.”
“In the entire book?!” I inquired. (I would have typed an interrogobang if I knew how.)
“Yes,” she wrote back.
After I got over the fact that nary an exclamation point was included in her instructions, I got to work employing the delete key.
I knew she was right. Too many exclamation points can run the risk of shouting at readers or numbing them like some kind of punctuation aversion therapy.
F. Scott Fitzgerald certainly wasn’t a fan. He said, “Cut out all these exclamation points…An exclamation point is like laughing at your own joke.”
(Exclamation) point taken.
So I began my journey toward punctuation restraint.
I learned to emote without marks, to let verbs and nouns (and yes, the occasional adjective) draw a scene or set the mood. The shift allowed me to grow as a writer and to broaden my repertoire for emphasis, interjection, dramatic effect and (of course) exclamation.
I also learned that exclamation points are part of who I am. They’re part of my writing voice and how I communicate outside of novel-writing.
Sure, I sometimes use too many. And, yes, I can be a little “cringe” (as my son would say) when I sprinkle them where they really needn’t be.
But I enjoy them. They make me happy. I even like titles that include them, like Jeopardy! Oklahoma! and Airplane!
Just as I allow myself to break grammatical rules as long as I know them, I choose to use—and even overuse—exclamation points in my emails and blog posts. It’s no longer a compulsion. It’s a decision. It’s my way of leaving my mark on the world—or at least my writing. So unless my editor tells me otherwise, I’ll continue to just be me, right down to how I punctuate.
Or maybe exclamation point.
How about you? Are you pointed with your use of exclamation points? Do you have writing habits some might deem unhealthy? Do you “do you” when you write? Please share!!! (!!)