Agent Observations,  Craft of Writing,  Updates

Exclamation Points! Oh My!

What’s on Spotify: #Throwback Thursday – Don’t You Forget About Me – Simple Minds

So I thought today would be a good today to talk a bit about exclamation points. In recent submissions and requested material I’ve been seeing a LOT of them. Overused.

One of the first craft and grammar rules I picked up was to watch the use of exclamation points. It’s one of the first signs of first draft or beginning writer syndromes.

As I type up my thoughts at the same time I am texting with friends for plans tonight, and noticed something. We’re using lots of exclamation points to convey our excitement because we’re texting not actually talking. I wonder if the changes in the way we communicate with friends via cell phones and social media is bleeding over into our narrative writing. While it works and is somewhat necessary in communicating through texts, we shouldn’t be overusing the poor exclamation point in writing. Here’s why:

Besides being a sign of first draft syndrome, it’s passive writing. Just like over using, or misusing adverbs in narrative can be very passive, so can sticking an exclamation point into a direct line of dialogue. The author is TELING me be excited, or be scared, or any number of high emotions. That just falls flat. I don’t feel anything. Instead, show me. It’s oaky to use a dialogue tag, sparingly, such as she shouted, he yelled, they screamed. Use body language like he jerked, she stomped her foot, they lunged. The active verb is always stronger. If the scene is already filled with high tension, building emotions, and/or a major point of conflict, the reader should be tense with the characters in the moment. As a reader, we will interpret the moment and experience the high emotion with the characters.

Many times in submissions I’ll see the author has done one of the following but they’ve also added the exclamation point. So it’s repetitive. It’s the author not trusting the reader enough to know the reader got it. And that pulls the reader out of the story faster than anything.

Of course there’s always a reason to break or fudge the rule. Sparingly! (See what I did there) Sometimes, for instance in a high action scene or beat, an exclamation point is needed to grab the reader because a character needs to grab the attention of another character. The example I’ve heard is two characters in a car and one has to shout to get the other’s attention before an accident. Like “Look out!”

As a rule of thumb, remember that your narrative will be stronger by taking those exclamation points out and finding better ways to show that high emotion.


An update to my queries. I am up to August 1st in queries. I still have several I am considering in the maybe pile and still reading through requested material from late June. I consider pitch contest where authors were asked to submit at least three chapters as requested material and not a general query.

And finally, I will be closing to general queries on November 1st.

graphic from AnonMoos

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