Exclamation Points!!! Avoid or Embrace?!

I love using exclamation points! Don’t you? How about interrobang sentences?! Finally, I think we should bring those back, don’t you?! And not just in dialogue, but in narrative! Finally, shouldn’t readers just really ought to be able to keep up with run-on sentences, no matter how complex, or whether or not they stay on topic, and I wonder how many people could diagram a sentence that’s simple, not to mention complex or run-on, but do they even teach diagramming sentences in school today, because they just really need to because students will learn the parts of speech if they are really taught how to diagram a sentence!

Sometimes I type like I talk, so of course all of my manuscripts are fascinating! Take the word just! I use it a lot in speech so what’s wrong with using it even more in writing?! Just is a really lovely word that just moves the conversation forward in just the right manner, doesn’t it really?! Really is just another great word that is just really underappreciated and really just should be used more often! The word really really puts an emphasis on any word that comes after it, so we just really need finally to start a movement to encourage greater use of this neglected word!

Finally, I just really need to talk about adverbs! Of course, once a writer has mastered the art of using the word really, the use of other adverbs may seem inconsequential! Sometimes many adverbs can be combined to great effect! The squirrel didn’t just run, but the squirrel really ran quickly! Notice the nuance of really here. The squirrel didn’t just run, but really ran! And quickly!

Finally, remember typing class?! Did you type the pangram, “The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog?”

Why stop there, with a sentence that contains all the letters of the alphabet, when you can enhance your writing with, “Finally, the quick brown fox with a shiny coat just really jumps frantically over the lazy but lovely white Maltese dog who badly needs grooming but her totally deadbeat owner consistently runs out of money and has limited grooming skills and what’s a quick brown fox doing jumping over a dog, anyway; is this happening in someone’s back yard, or did the owner take the Maltese on a hike in a local national park or what?! I mean, does this scenario sound true to life at all?!

Notice what a great improvement has been made to the sentence! Now, not only can you practice typing, but the sentence begs the reader to ponder the situation with the animals and owner, plus the wonders of nature! Believe me, this expanded scenario gives the creative writer enough information to write an entire novel! Or a nonfiction tome on meditation!

And finally, please be advised that as a writer, I, Tamela Hancock Murray, have never ever, ever used too many exclamation points, too many adverbs, too many instances of really, or just, or finally! Seriously! Well, okay, if I did, I went back through the manuscript and took 90% of them out. Editors everywhere have thanked me.

Your turn:

Do you have a favorite excess word that pops into your writing?

How about punctuation?!

What are some tips you can offer that can help writers identify and delete excess words and breathless punctuation?

47 Responses to Exclamation Points!!! Avoid or Embrace?!

  1. Avatar
    Michael Emmanuel December 15, 2016 at 5:02 am #

    In my ongoing MS, there’s really a lot of ‘really’ and ‘just’, since it was just a first draft and I just did not see a need to really weed out the words, as writers are always advised to pen shitty first drafts and stopping to edit might be excruciatingly painful.

    Does anyone overuse okay, so, and then? I’ve found that these three words easily pop in, they hardly make contributions, and are mostly a bore. It’d be easy to powerfully remove them in edits.

    Now that I’ve wonderfully constructed these paragraphs, I shouldn’t be called a writer.

    Well, I wouldn’t do such in a professional situation, save moments like this.

    P.S: I’m reading a Christmas novel and there’s a sentence I can’t discard: He laughed uproariously.
    Are there situations where editors make exceptions? The novel was published 2010.

    • Avatar
      Tamela Hancock Murray December 15, 2016 at 4:10 pm #

      Michael, I think you can get away with more in dialogue than in narrative. If you notice the words, then you have too many instances of them, no matter what the year. 🙂

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    Ken Kinghorn December 15, 2016 at 5:08 am #

    I’ve made good use of a proper placement of the hyphen, the n dash and the m dash.

    • Avatar
      Tamela Hancock Murray December 15, 2016 at 4:10 pm #

      Ken, I’ve seen heated debates over m and n dashes. Not a pretty picture!

  3. Avatar
    Joanna Alonzo December 15, 2016 at 5:17 am #

    I noticed two:
    1. “In order to”.
    Instead of just saying, “To do this, she had to…” or “She did so-and-so to get herself to calm down”, those words keep sneaking in: “In order to do this, she had to…” or “She did so-and-so in order to get herself to calm down.”

    2. “found herself/himself”
    My characters keep finding themselves doing stuff in excess. As if they were lost for a while and suddenly they just found themselves performing an action. It’s actually appropriate in certain cases, but I use it way too often. He found himself thinking about while she found herself wondering about. Hopefully, they find each other while they’re finding themselves.

    • Avatar
      Tamela Hancock Murray December 15, 2016 at 4:12 pm #

      Thanks for the chuckle, Joanna! I have noticed that the latest Microsoft Office update points out many excessive phrases now, so that should help writers.

  4. Avatar
    Diana Harkness December 15, 2016 at 5:27 am #

    Exclamation points should be used, but rarely and only if they will add to the understanding . A good example: What! You actually graduated! After all these years!

    I loathe the overuse of commas. I sometimes see comma, after comma, after comma. Commas should be used to clarify, not create confusion.

    Anything that creates an unwelcome stop or impedes the flow should be avoided. In a novel I was provided to review such a stop comes at about the halfway point. There the author introduces a new character called both “The Frenchman” and “a Frenchman” who is never seen again. She also compares the Masons to a terrorist organization (I wonder if she meant the Mafia?) Both of these made me stop and wonder whether “The Frenchman” was some sort of superhero (The Librarian, The Flash, etc.). I also did some light research to see if anyone considered the Masons similar to terrorists. I wonder at the publisher allowing this aspersion. I can see a libel suit in the offing, if a novelist putting this slur in a character’s mouth can be subject to a claim of libel.

    Both of these examples are far more problematic than punctuation. But punctuation improperly used can also bring this reader close to tearing her hair out or, in the alternative, consigning the book to the recycle bin.

    • Avatar
      Tamela Hancock Murray December 15, 2016 at 4:15 pm #

      Diana, considering there are lots of books that look poorly upon Freemasons, at this point, the writer is probably safe from a lawsuit. Most major publishers require a libel reading when necessary to avoid legal troubles. But if the commas distract from the intrigue, perhaps the book needed more work before being released!

  5. Avatar
    Connie Stevens December 15, 2016 at 5:56 am #

    I just finished editing a manuscript from which I took out almost 150 exclamation points. Punctuation is NOT for the purpose of showing emotion. I recommended stronger verbs and deeper POV, but also pointed out that unless a sentence or word is truly an exclamation (Wow! Watch out! Oh, no! Surprise!), no exclamation point is needed. Of course, when texting or writing a Facebook post, all bets are off!!!!!

  6. Avatar
    Sue Raatjes December 15, 2016 at 6:08 am #

    I’ve read an exclamation point is like laughing at your own joke. I also read the word “that” can almost always be eliminated.

    • Avatar
      Tamela Hancock Murray December 15, 2016 at 4:17 pm #

      Sue, I’ve had my grammar checker suggest that I ADD the word “that” in places. Go figure!

      • Avatar
        Carol Ashby December 15, 2016 at 5:19 pm #

        In formal writing, like I always used in my technical publications, the implied “that” is written, not implied. I suspect that’s what the spell checker was trying to tell you. When I started writing fiction, I had to teach myself to get sloppy and omit the “that.” I still find myself having to edit out a few formal “thats” on the first time through a finished section. Proper habits die hard, but I’ve almost beaten mine to death.

  7. Avatar
    Richard Mabry December 15, 2016 at 6:16 am #

    Tamela, my own agent cautions against exclamation points, yet sometimes puts them in her emails, proving–I suppose–that agents are human. When an editor got hold of my first to-be-published manuscript, she said, “Are you aware of how much in love with the word ‘just’ you are?” I’ve watched for it since then. But in speaking, and in first drafts, I still like it. Thanks for sharing. (Wanted to end with a question so I could use an interrobang, but I couldn’t. Or could I?!)

    • Avatar
      Tamela Hancock Murray December 15, 2016 at 4:18 pm #

      Richard, I just love interrobang sentences because they are such fun, don’t you think?!

  8. Avatar
    Loretta Eidson December 15, 2016 at 6:27 am #

    Commas, ly words, and, that, just, and so tend to trip me up. I’m learning to do a search for repetitive words and make adjustments. I love exclamation points, but knowing they should be avoided forces me to reword my sentences in a way that gets the point across without them. It’s a constant learning process, but well worth the effort to tighten my WIP.

  9. Avatar
    Sarah Hamaker December 15, 2016 at 7:22 am #

    Apostrophes–that little swirl has been sorely misused of late. It appears after years (1960’s–years cannot be possessive!). It appears when plurality is meant (The Smith’s welcomed us to their home). It appears as if a contraction is needed, especially as “it’s” when “its” is the correct usage.

    • Avatar
      Tamela Hancock Murray December 15, 2016 at 4:21 pm #

      Sarah, I don’t think we’ll ever be able to kill off the use of apostrophes for plural years, even by the 2100s! Or is that 2100’s?

      An aside! the grammar checker on this comment screen put a red squiggle underline under 2100s but not 2100’s!

      Resistance is futile?!

      • Avatar
        Sarah Hamaker December 15, 2016 at 6:14 pm #

        Ah, that explains a lot if people are relying on grammar checkers and not common sense…

  10. Avatar
    Dean Ortner, Ph.D., Ph.D. December 15, 2016 at 7:23 am #

    Years ago, following one of my science lectures, an English teacher approached me with the following punctuation/spelling challenge she would give her journalism students:

    john where mary had had had had had had had had had had had the teachers approval

  11. Avatar
    Andrew Budek-Schmeisser December 15, 2016 at 8:17 am #

    Whoa, like, DUDE, I mean, it’s like, you know, dude, out there to, like, bring sentences to life. Dude, like, it’s not like words are ZOMBIES or anything like that, but, OK, we gotta help them live!

    I mean, like, writing is surfing without the wetsuit and the surf Nazis, only you got AGENTS, and it’s like, SHARK! but some agents are friendly, like you, but most sharks are like, whoa, dude, LUNCH!

  12. Avatar
    Theresa Santy December 15, 2016 at 8:21 am #

    Lol. This was hilarious. I would have ended that sentence with an exclamation point, but for some reason I’m feeling self conscious about them right now. As I kept reading this post one thought kept popping in my head: this voice, written this way, would make a great fictional character.

    Anyways, I once wrote a short story about a character who received an intervention from her writing peers about her persistent use of the word ‘anyways’ in her writing. This article makes me want to bring that MC back to life.

    And also, in my personal writing (FB, text, email), I write ‘And also’ a lot. I picked it up from a TV show. I know it’s wrong, but I can’t stop.

    • Avatar
      Tamela Hancock Murray December 15, 2016 at 4:24 pm #

      Hey, anything goes in informal writing, Theresa! As you can see, I am not self-conscious about exclamation points despite the points made in my blog post!

      • Avatar
        Theresa Santy December 15, 2016 at 6:16 pm #

        Whew! Total awesome sauce! I mean, you’re right. This is informal. So we can wear our sweats and fuzzy socks. 🙂

  13. Avatar
    Grace Hitchcock December 15, 2016 at 8:32 am #

    Haha great post! Too many exclamation points are my downfall as well as “growled, scowled and smiled” and a few other filler words. Thank heavens for you and beta readers helping me catch those overused words and abused punctation. Word search has become a favorite tool for my growing watch list 🙂

    • Avatar
      Linda K. Rodante December 15, 2016 at 9:32 am #

      I am also fond of growled, scowled and smiled!” And an occasional exclamation point.

    • Avatar
      Tamela Hancock Murray December 15, 2016 at 4:25 pm #

      Grace and Linda, there are very few words a writer can substitute for growled, scowled, and especially smiled, so it does get tricky!

  14. Avatar
    Carol Ashby December 15, 2016 at 8:40 am #

    Some of your examples are hilarious, Tamela! To turn a person into an on-the-fly grammar analyzer, there’s nothing better than learning German, Russian (better), or Latin (best), where you have 4 to 7 choices for each noun’s ending depending on its role in the sentence. Taking Latin in middle school made diagramming sentences in English class easy and fun. Still, I don’t think I’d want to tackle some of yours.

    One of the most common comma problems I see is where people insert one with a compound predicate (two verbs with a single shared subject) as if they had a compound sentence (two subjects each with its own verb and separated by a conjunction). It’s too easy to do on the first draft, so I always watch my own work closely for that when I edit.

    I have to watch out for too many uses of “just” since I tend to use it in casual speech. I have a superb critique partner who helps me catch the fluff words that often add nothing. I don’t think a blanket ban is a good thing, however. Sometimes that “just” or “really” is exactly what you need to convey the full meaning.

    Personally, I think the “absolutely no adverbs” rule impoverishes the language. I abide by it at a 98% level, but sometimes the only way you can nuance a verb is to add the right adverb. When it weakens the meaning to use no adverb, I choose to use the adverb.

    • Avatar
      Tamela Hancock Murray December 15, 2016 at 4:26 pm #

      Carol, you are right — like salt and pepper, adverbs can add flavor when not overused!

  15. Avatar
    sherri stewart December 15, 2016 at 9:20 am #

    Sighed is a pet word of mine in romance, and it’s hard to replace because it just fits (just like just did there).

    • Avatar
      Tamela Hancock Murray December 15, 2016 at 4:28 pm #

      A heroine is best sighing while wearing a dainty lace dress and holding a rose, Sherri. 🙂

  16. Avatar
    Linda K. Rodante December 15, 2016 at 9:30 am #

    I think the “rules” against exclamation points and adverbs and adjectives and was, were, be, being, been, etc have gone overboard. These do help in certain circumstances, but in others, you have to construct a sentence twice as long to get around it. Or you know a character should just yell “Help!” but you can’t put “yell” in there (only said) and you can’t put the exclamation point, so you just look dumb by putting “Help.” Then you decide you need to “show, not tell” it and so you write a paragraph showing how frantic she is–without, of course, saying she’s “frantic.” 🙂 Anyway, you get the point (oops! another cliche’). The rules are good–sometimes–just don’t pick up your fork and eat too many of them and load your book with too much of a “good thing.” Because, really, your book becomes sterile and misses the lilt and rhyme and music of words and phrases.

  17. Avatar
    Sheri Dean Parmelee December 15, 2016 at 11:13 am #

    Tamela, I also love using exclamation points!!!!!! I believe in living life as one big, exciting adventure, and they just seem to pop up!!!!! All over the place!!!! Thanks for a superb posting……..my least favorite word is “now” when it is overused by my communication students…….I don’t know that there is a favorite word in my rhetorical bag of tricks. Outstanding posting!

  18. Avatar
    Julie Surface Johnson December 15, 2016 at 12:00 pm #

    Hilarious. Thanks for the great post.

  19. Avatar
    Margo Carmichael December 15, 2016 at 1:51 pm #

    Over the years, I have suggested yet another punctuation mark, the tilde. Doesn’t it just look like a little more emotion than a period, but less than an exclamation point? I’m enthusiastic about it~

  20. Avatar
    Margo Carmichael December 15, 2016 at 1:52 pm #

    I think it’s especially useful when implying tongue-in-cheek humor~

  21. Avatar
    Rebekah Dorris December 15, 2016 at 2:20 pm #

    Whew…I feel like I just drained fifteen espressos! Really!

  22. Avatar
    Gail Sattler December 15, 2016 at 9:13 pm #

    I think you had way too much fun writing that. 🙂

  23. Avatar
    Janet Ann Collins December 15, 2016 at 9:27 pm #

    When my first book was accepted for publication I couldn’t believe how many “just”s the editor had me remove.

  24. Avatar
    Tisha Martin December 17, 2016 at 5:16 am #

    I laughed. Heartily at the title! And then the more I read the article, I cringed! By the time I read to the end I wanted to check every single word. LOL. Loved the post, Tamela.

    I think I have only one exclamation point in my current novel, and it’s because my editor put it there… It’s in an action scene where my character is about to fail at something she’s worked so hard for.

    If I have ever erred on one of the cardinal sins of poor word choice or irritating punctuation, it would be that I tend to use the same word twice on the same page. (Pun intended. Too bad I can’t go back and edit it out.) 😉

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