Oh! Exclamation point!!!

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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.

Emails.

Letters to distant aunts.

Fiction.

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.

However………

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.

Period.

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!!! (!!)

54 thoughts on “Oh! Exclamation point!!!

  1. I have trained myself out of using them (mostly) in my fiction. But yes, they creep in elsewhere – emails and (most egregiously) in Facebook posts. Which are kind of like marketing copy, so it’s okay, right?!?

    Liked by 6 people

  2. I don’t use them very often in my books, but anything goes for emails, social media, and the like. That said, I never use more than one in a row. I am just not a double exclamation point person. And I don’t think there has ever been an occasion where I’ve used an interrobang. Of course, my announcements aren’t usually super newsworthy. Maybe if I won the lottery. Fingers crossed!!!

    Liked by 5 people

  3. I am so guilty. I’ve gone from one to two !! if I’m really excited. I even have the one-two punch build up to show my enthusiasm. You did a great job with the blog! I love it!! Me editor has gone blind to it, but my secret addiction makes itself very known on facebook and email. I have a problem.

    Liked by 6 people

  4. My guilty pleasure in writing is the em dash—that sexy pause within the sentence—that I can’t seem to get enough of. But I try to limit myself to only one per paragraph. Try, that is.

    As for exclamation marks, I do love them too! But I tend to reserve them for emails and comments to blog posts. Yes!! (My French friends, BTW, are quite fond of exclamation marks, often employing more than one in any given sentence in their emails and texts.)

    Liked by 5 people

  5. I love this post!! I also employ a lot of exclamation points when I write comments on social media and often in emails. I do manage to keep them out of my fiction, but I’m never sure people will understand the depth of my emotion on a comment if I don’t employ a few!

    Liked by 5 people

    1. It’s so doggone hard to communicate tone of voice– in emails/texts especially!

      I found a funny meme that summed up the process of adding exclamation points so that you sound happy/positive then deleting them because you sound a bit mad. So true for me!

      Liked by 3 people

  6. Great post, Kathy! Never change– you and your exclamation points are fab!!!!!!! My editor thought I had a comma fetish. She may be right. And thank you for expanding my punctuation world. I didn’t know combining a question mark and exclamation point was an option!

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Oh the wide, gorgeous world of punctuation! I love how we’re passionate about such things.

      And LOL about the comma fetish. I find myself to be comma stingy–I think because of the copywriting background–but I’ll bet it’s a more-the-merrier situation! I’m going to start sprinkling.

      Liked by 3 people

  7. I so have an issue with exclamation points, particularly in casual emails and social media posts. (I’m very careful to minimize them in manuscripts, though.)

    I’m wondering if we add exclamation marks to our book titles if they’d sound snazzier. (Mimi Lee Gets A Clue! Puzzling Ink! Murder in the Bayou Boneyard! What do you think? 8) )

    Liked by 7 people

  8. I do like exclamation points. I have learned not to include them in my books (or rarely, anyway), but use them a lot in emails. I took several semesters of Swedish and vaguely remember something about them being common. I found this interesting about Swedes and exclamation points.
    “1. Exclamation Marks!
    An exclamation mark in Swedish is used to indicate a positive, friendly tone. In English, however, it indicates, 1. yelling, 2. extreme excitement, or 3. sarcasm. Exclamation marks are used sparingly in English. They are very “special occasion”. When you use them in your English writing, they just make you seem very dramatic and possibly aggressive. Exclamation marks usually have no place in business emails, so start replacing them with calm little periods instead.”
    From https://www.ekonomiforetag.se/sv/2019/10/28/top-five-errors-swedes-make-when-writing-emails-in-english/

    Liked by 5 people

    1. That is so fascinating, Sybil! I never thought about the cultural implications of punctuation, but it makes so much sense.

      I have employed *accidental* sarcasm with question marks, which I have erroneously hit when trying to click the exclamation point. It definitely changes the meaning when you say, “Congratulations?” “Cool?” or “You’re so awesome?”

      Liked by 3 people

      1. Very true. I hadn’t thought about the cultural implications of punctuation until I took that Swedish class. I figure I use so many of them because I am half Swedish. Doesn’t matter that I’ve never set foot there or only barely understand bits of the language! That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

        Liked by 3 people

  9. When I published my first Natalie McMasters novel, Stripper!, some took me to task for using too many exclamation points (and I should point out that I cut about half of them before publication). However, Natalie is a potty-mouthed twenty-something college student whose speech is heavily laced with GenZ slang and she can be a bit of drama queen, so the exclamation point fits her personality perfectly. To demonstrate how well I respond to constructive criticism, I decided to embrace the exclamation point and incorporate it into the title, as well, to add some branding. Now the Natalie McMasters series comprises four volumes–Stripper!, Revenge!, Trafficked!, and Venom! The fifth book, Sniper!, is on the drawing board.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. That is so smart, Tom! Characters definitely have their own voices, right down to punctuation. I love how you’re true to your characters. And incorporating exclamation points into your titles is a great reflection of Natalie, her brand and your brand!

      Liked by 2 people

  10. I tend to use them a bit too often in my quick posts. Not so much in my reviews.

    But what I really find I have an addiction to is smilies. 🙂 This is especially true in the IM’s I use at work. 🙂

    Liked by 5 people

  11. Ha ha! Love this post. I got the exact same note on my first book.

    Totally with you. Love exclaimies beyond all reason and have to go back through emails to make sure all the sentences don’t end with !!!!!!!

    Let’s make an Exclamation Club! All are invited!!!

    Liked by 4 people

    1. YES! We should definitely make a club. The logo would be easy: !

      Now we just need a secret handshake!

      I also do the read-through to make sure EVERY sentence doesn’t end with a bevvy of exclamation points. But then I find those caps and emojis creep in. I. Just. Won’t. Stop.

      (Evidently, I like periods, too? And question marks?)

      Liked by 1 person

  12. LOL! Yes, LOL – something I swore I’d never use and then gave up the battle. I use exclamation marks a lot personally and feel totally weird using them in my writing. I ONLY use them – sparingly – in dialogue, never in prose. To me, thta’s bad writing. Something I’ve never seen you be guilty of, my friend! (And yes, that exclamation mark was a conscious choice! Like that one! And that one!)

    Liked by 3 people

  13. I am your Exclam Twin, Kathy!!! (That’s what we called them in Editorial Land.) They are definitely a call to action–and maybe the literary equivalent of a laugh track, but I have indeed been known to laugh at my own jokes. (Or make my characters laugh at them, anyway. They have no choice.) I used to write teen romance, for which they were ever so useful. And I sprinkled a lot of them into the original drafts of my Ladies Smythe & Westin books, too, even though my characters were grownups. But how can you say, “OMG, she’s dead!” without an exclam? It might seem…I dunno, uncaring, otherwise. I was given a max guideline of no more than 1 per page by the copyeditor, but I did go back and kill a whole bunch more. I’ve noticed I use them a lot here on Chicks. I’m up for Monday, so I’ll see how many I can avoid. No promises…

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Exclam Twin powers, activated!

      I’m with you on character reactions. There’s definitely a time and a place for characters to exclaim–and I’d consider stumbling across a dead body one of them!

      Looking forward to doing an exclam count on Monday’s post! 😉 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  14. In my manuscripts I only use exclams—sexy pause here whilst I tell you that me and exclams are like THIS!!! which is why I can call them by their nickname—in dialogue. But in my REAL LIFE dialogue, I’m a virtual emoting MACHINE!! *insert starburst here*

    Liked by 2 people

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