Teaching Tuesday, something simple for today, but important. Punctuation. And not just any punctuation, exclamation marks.

There have been times when I’ve opened manuscripts and submissions and seen this type of thing:

“I don’t know why she won’t go out with me!!?!” Ralph said.

“What! She said no?” Turk couldn’t believe what he was hearing!

“She said no!”

What a pisser that was for Ralph! Turk knew he’d been looking forward to showing Chyna just how long his…limo really was!

Okay, so you can see why I’m not a writer (hey, coming up with examples not based on anything I’ve seen is hard) but you get the idea. Exclamation marks all over the place. They’re emphatic! They’re excitable! And they have the potential to irritate your readers and lose their affect if you overuse them!

Here’s what I tell my authors who love the exclamation marks; If you’re feeling like you need the mark to convey the excitement and urgency, maybe you should look at adding in or revising what you’ve got there. And this combination !!?! or any combination of multiples…you’ll need a really good arguement for why you need it.

“I don’t know why she won’t go out with me,” Ralph nearly shouted, bouncing on the balls of his feet in his agitation.

Now, you can use the exclamation mark there, but it’s not needed (and I feel the need to apologize for my bad writing again, lol.) and the tag conveys a more vivid description than the exclamation mark ever could. In this case, you can save the exclamation mark for later in the dialogue. Even the next line can use different punctuation.

“What? She said no?” Turk couldn’t believe what he was hearing.

And the tag definitly doesn’t need an exclamation mark. Exclamation marks should be hopefully be used in dialogue only, not in narrative or tags.

So then you have:

“She said no!”

Because there’s no tag here, and you don’t want to tag every line of dialogue (because blech) you want to save the exclamation mark for where it’s needed, which the author could argue would be here. Now, we could have a debate about whether it’s really needed here, how you this is being said, if a period would work as well, blah blah. But work with me, people. It’s an example, not scripture 😉

And last, the line is all narrative, so no exclamations are best.

What a pisser that was for Ralph. Turk knew he’d been looking forward to showing Chyna just how long his…limo really was.

And here’s my helpful hint for the day in regards to exclamation marks and how I tell my addicted authors to junk them. If you think you need them all, turn off track changes on your Word program (assuming it’s on). Now go to Edit, Find and the Replace tab. In find, put the ! and in Replace a period. Hit Replace All. Now, as you’re reading through your manuscript and you find yourself missing the exclamation mark, ask yourself if you need it desperately, if you can reword that bit of writing to make it stronger and live without the exclamation mark, or if you can live without it being there.

Exclamation marks should be used sparingly so the reader doesn’t notice their use. And so you know that you’ve made your writing as strong as possible and not relying on a punctuation mark to convey your tone and meaning, because that’s cheating both your story and your reader.

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