Story Stuff: X Is For eXclamation Marks

Yes, I cheated. A little. I figured we didn’t really need to know about xylophones, x-rays, or…xenomorphs.

xenomorph

Credit: otisframpton.com

Isn’t English fun sometimes?

X

Anyway, today in our series we’re talking about the nitty gritty of writing – punctuation.

No GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY

Don’t worry. It’ll be okay. We’re only talking about exclamation marks because 1. I used them to cheat in the title, and 2. They are oddly contentious in the writing community, primarily because they are perceived as amateurish. When I had a publisher, the style guide said we were to use no more than ten exclamation marks in the entire book. Any that I had were within dialogue, and even then I had to cut most of them.

I ended up putting some back because my ten-year-old character needed to be more excited than my exclamation mark restriction suggested. “Let’s go to the zoo,” she yelled didn’t cut it.

That said, I agree that exclamation marks should be avoided outside of dialogue. Let’s take a piece of prose and play around to see why.

This excerpt is from The Last Juror by John Grisham. The first bit is how it’s written in the book. In the second, I’ve changed some periods to exclamation marks.

It was a pleasant little country house, a stone’s throw from Mr. And Mrs. Deece next door. The young man who bought it was killed in a trucking accident somewhere in Texas, and, at the age of twenty-eight, Rhoda became a widow. The insurance on his life paid off the house and the car. The balance was invested to provide a modest monthly income that allowed her to remain home and dote on the children. She spent hours outside, tending her vegetable garden, potting flowers, pulling weeds, mulching the beds along the front of the house.

Now, the exclamation mark version.

It was a pleasant little country house, a stone’s throw from Mr. And Mrs. Deece next door. The young man who bought it was killed in a trucking accident somewhere in Texas, and, at the age of twenty-eight, Rhoda became a widow! The insurance on his life paid off the house and the car! The balance was invested to provide a modest monthly income that allowed her to remain home and dote on the children! She spent hours outside, tending her vegetable garden, potting flowers, pulling weeds, mulching the beds along the front of the house.

Feels like the author is leading you to think that’s very interesting, doesn’t it?

exclamation mark1

Of course there are exceptions. I read a chapter from one of my writing partners the other day, and he used BOOM! in the narrative. It was totally appropriate as he used it. But the exceptions are few.

Are there instances where you couldn’t avoid using an exclamation mark in your writing (like my example with my young character)?

10 thoughts on “Story Stuff: X Is For eXclamation Marks

  1. Pingback: Blogging From A to Z Challenge – Theme Reveal! | Allison Maruska

  2. WTF is an interrobang?

    And Iowa nails it. When writing a novel, proceed under F Scott Fitzgerald’s mantra – and remember, he drank himself to death at the ripe old age of 44, so buyer beware – and THEN add them back only where needed. There won’t be a lot!

    When writing in general, go for it, though. I do. “Awesome” without “!” is blah.

    Fitzgerald’s redemption (because Gatsby SUCKED – boring and SO full of itself) was that he died eating a candy bar. That, I have to admire. That’s how I wanna go – but like at 90 or something, not freaking 44. Schmuck.

    Liked by 1 person

Share your thoughts!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s