The Exclamation Point!!!

(And Other Annoying Devices)

When I was an editor, I found myself the heartless eliminator of exclamation points!!! Seriously, I developed a hatred for them! People tend to WAY overuse them! Not to mention italics and bold, and that oh-so-effective use of ALL CAPS!!!!!!!

Here’s a hint to avoid coming across as amateur: Use the above devices sparingly in any writing intended for publication. (I’m being specific here, because in blog writing and emails, you’re free to go crazy. I do.)

If you tend to use a plethora of exclamation points, do a search-and-replace in your manuscript and put a period in place of every single one of them. Yep, every one. Then you can go back and add an exclamation point here and there if you really must. But I’m not kidding: VERY . . . SPARINGLY.

Same with other means of artificial emphasis: italics and ALL CAPS. Your writing should be so effective by itself that the emphasis isn’t necessary.

As for bold, don’t ever use it in running text! (It’s OKAY for headers!)

Isn’t THIS irritating!!!!

Rachelle Gardner

Literary agent at Books & Such Literary Agency. Coffee & wine enthusiast (not at the same time) and dark chocolate connoisseur. I've worked in publishing since 1995 and I love talking about books!

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  8. Gemgirl on February 13, 2010 at 6:45 AM

    >Oh My GOSH!!!!!
    How right you are. Question, how is it that award winning authors get books published that have so so so so many of these on one page? My husband got me a book for Christmas (author unknown to me, who I won't name) and I gave it a go. Well, I got so fed up with the multitudes of exclamation points that I nearly gave up (amongst other issues like trying to give me a history lesson that sounded like it was straight out of a text book – but I digress and now the 12:45am is making me use brackets in crazy ways!!!)
    Well, at one point I actually thought a whole other character had walked in on the scene, due to an exclamation point.
    But then I'm not perfect … on to some editing tomorrow



  9. Scotty on October 21, 2009 at 2:50 PM

    >you must be peeking at what I write, because I've told myself that I need Exclamations Anonymous. Perhaps another short tip about quotation marks when you are "referring to something" as in, we all know what I "mean"?



  10. Meryl K. Evans on October 20, 2009 at 6:59 AM

    >Thank you, Rachelle. I had to read a bunch of content where the entire thing appeared in italics. And more annoying is when someone uses bold AND underline to emphasize something. Pick one… please?



  11. Anonymous on October 20, 2009 at 6:13 AM

    >Best selling author Cornelia Funke (Inkheart, etc) showers her books with exclaimation marks. It drove me crazy reading them all. There were some pages that had at least 7 of the marks, but at least they weren't all for the same sentence. You'd have thought, though, her editor would have said something. Or maybe it's okay in German (the language she writes the books in), but after they're translated in English, the editor should have had them removed. Now kids thinks it's all right to use them.



  12. Liesl on October 19, 2009 at 10:03 PM

    >As a children's writer I hear about this all the time…because people tend to think that children need exclamations after everything they say! They're just so full of energy! Their world is so exciting! We need to make that apparent!

    I'm not innocent of the crime. I'm just a reformed exclamation junkie.



  13. Sharon Mayhew on October 19, 2009 at 9:43 PM

    >Great post!!!! LOL

    When I began writing stories my writing buddy pointed out that I use that too much. I started to follow every revision with a track/replace looking for my thats. I still review my thats carefully.

    I only use italics for internal dialogue.



  14. Sara ♥ on October 19, 2009 at 9:30 PM

    >Darn it. I love semi-colons.



  15. Beth on October 19, 2009 at 7:21 PM

    >I love italics…darn it! I loved that the cat in Runaway Bride was named Italics. Ugh. I'm going to have to do some serious italics undoing 🙂



  16. Rachelle on October 19, 2009 at 6:05 PM

    >Anon 2:51, that is indeed a serious question. Something we all have to remember in the Internet age is that once you put something online, there is no way to be sure it's ever totally removed. You have no way of knowing how many ways and places your material has been used all over the Internet.

    If I wanted to tear down my platform, I'd take down all my websites and blogs (not just make them private, I'd take them down). If I'm listed on others' websites, I'd go to the tedious effort of contacting them and trying to get my name removed. I'd get my name taken out of any published listings – books, yellow pages, etc. Then I'd just go silent for awhile as far as media or anything else. Things move quickly these days, and there are so many things competing for our attention, that eventually people will forget about me and move on.

    I can't think of anything more creative than that.



  17. Anonymous on October 19, 2009 at 3:51 PM

    >I have a very serious question which might make you laugh, scoff, or tell me I am SOL, but here goes:

    How can you tear down a platform you've diligently worked to build for a year?

    Beyond initial reactions, are there any practical suggestions besides making blogs private, etc?

    And let me say: you can't realize how big your platform actually is until you decide / are pressured to kill it.



  18. Timothy Fish on October 19, 2009 at 2:13 PM

    >Falen,

    What you would use instead of a semicolon is the lowly period, in most cases and if you could replace it with a dash, then you’re using the semicolon incorrectly. An appropriate use of the semicolon would be in the sentence “Dad woke early; Mom slept late.” However, we could easily rewrite that as “Dad woke early. Mom slept late.” We would lose the indication that this is to be two contrasting statements, but it would be correct. As you can see, a dash would not work here. Nor would it work to replace the semicolons in “We visited the cities St. Louis, Missouri; Dallas, Texas; Detroit, Michigan and Jackson, Mississippi.” But in this case, the period won’t work either, creating an instance in which the semicolon is absolutely required.



  19. Nicole O'Dell on October 19, 2009 at 1:33 PM

    >GRRREAT Post!!!



  20. Falen on October 19, 2009 at 12:47 PM

    >i, too, would like to know what to use instead of a semicolon? I don't use them often (rarely, actually), but when i do, i feel they're very neccesary. Would it be OK to replace them with a dash? or is that too informal?

    And the dots are called elipses, for those who were questioning. I love elipses in informal writing (emails, facebook updates) but not so much when noveling

    Great post!



  21. ChrisB on October 19, 2009 at 12:38 PM

    >Once author I read suggested only allowing yourself one exclamation point per 100,000 words.

    Too strict, or not strict enough?



  22. Livia on October 19, 2009 at 12:17 PM

    >This was a funny article!!!! About bold though. I think they're pretty standard and accepted now for blogs because they make skimming easier. Not for manuscripts though. What do you think?



  23. Angela James on October 19, 2009 at 11:24 AM

    >@Diana: italics are appropriate for inner dialogue in first person, present tense. I think what Rachelle is referring to is use of italics for emphasis.



  24. T. Anne on October 19, 2009 at 11:06 AM

    >Ha! Great post! 😉

    I've long since all but abandoned the exclamation point. What seemed right in the initial draft seemed very contrived when I re-read it. However, I do use the italics quit liberally in my YA novel. It seems genuine to my 14 y.o. characters use of language. Especially since it's written with a light tongue-in-cheek fashion.



  25. Arabella on October 19, 2009 at 11:06 AM

    >To Timothy–I agree that we should use more semicolons. Semicolons and commas are lovely for long sentences, which are lovely because they don't break the flow of text like short choppy sentences. I try to restrain myself when I write long sentences, but they are such fun . ..



  26. Diana on October 19, 2009 at 11:05 AM

    >I realized that in my current manuscript, I sometimes used italics for inner monologue, and sometimes, I did not. Thanks for this post! I will try to do away with the italics.



  27. Lynnda - Passionate for the Glory of God on October 19, 2009 at 10:55 AM

    >Good morning, Rachelle,

    Rachelle, Rachelle, Rachelle, what is a writer to do? Here are all these lovely little keys on my keyboard – ";:!() – and now they will just sit there gathering dust and feeling neglected.

    I spent all that time learning how to make my software show words in bold or in italics and now I find out that I should use those features just often enough for me to forget how to do it the next time.

    Can't we use any shortcuts to making our words do all the work and carry all the weight?

    Oh, well, (huge sigh of resignation) I guess I'll just have to learn do without them.

    ;>)

    Be blessed,

    Lynnda



  28. Timothy Fish on October 19, 2009 at 10:52 AM

    >It’s amazing how few semicolons we use these days, when we consider how many authors used in Mark Twain’s era. I think there was excessive use back then, but I think we may have reached the other side of the pendulum swing and we aren’t using it enough, these days. There are some thoughts are so tightly connected that we shouldn’t allow a period to separate them. When that happens, we ought to stick in a semicolon. Should we consider it a commentary on the state of our world that writers used to be able to string pages of connected thoughts together and we are so scatter brained that we use em-dashes extensively? The writer’s of the past strung together connected thoughts; we string together disconnected thoughts—scatterbrained lot that we are.



  29. Mireyah Wolfe on October 19, 2009 at 10:50 AM

    >I know I use italics a lot, but surprisingly, it rarely occurs to me to use exclamation points when I'm writing.

    My dashes do tend to make repeat appearances, though.

    ————————

    And, of course, the all important: dots…the name of which completely escapes me at the moment.



  30. Katy McKenna on October 19, 2009 at 10:43 AM

    >I am friends with many published authors, and boy do they let loose with the crazy punctuation, caps, bold, italics, et al, in emails! Want proof? I wrote a goofy post on this subject and a number of authors weighed in, in the comments.
    http://tinyurl.com/ykgp8ku

    Great post, Rachelle, and wonderful reminder. I am reading a book right now in which 7 exclamation points occur in the space of 8 lines! THAT'S HARD TO DO!!!!



  31. Anna Claire on October 19, 2009 at 10:42 AM

    >I was always told that (except for very rare occasions) if you have to use exclamation marks in your writing, it means your sentence is lazily constructed – that you need to rewrite to bring across the same level of excitement. So now when I get the urge, I take apart the sentence to see how I could rewrite to make it better.



  32. Bex and the Bookends on October 19, 2009 at 10:35 AM

    >I agree completely. This is something I find myself commenting on a LOT when I look at drafts from friends or the writing workshop I am on.



  33. Cookie D on October 19, 2009 at 10:20 AM

    >Please don't say CAPS and bold and exclamation marks!!!! are permissible in blogging.

    IT'S NEVER OK TO USE CAPS — UNLESS YOU'RE SCREAMING!

    If you text, blog or tweet in ALL CAPS, 98% of the Internet is laughing at you. Just so you know.

    And all of you who don't know when it's ok to use punctuation mark this or that — take a weekend with your style guide or grammar book of choice. Please? I can't believe all of you who just went "Oh, but I used an exclamation point in my WIP, the MC hit his foot on the threshold and then dropped a hammer on his toe. Then is it ok to use an exclamation point? Is it? IS IT?!". It's really not that hard, trust your gut. If you don't have a gut feeling about your writing/language, you probably shouldn't be seeking a career as a writer in the first place.



  34. Dawn Herring on October 19, 2009 at 10:18 AM

    >I haven't done a search for exclamation points or italics in my WIP yet since I haven't finished the first draft. I never use bold in text. In my blog posts, I may use an exclamation point occasionally or italics for one word to emphasize the word that would stand out if I were reading it aloud.
    I find the overuse of !!!! to be burdensome, even in tweets on Twitter; occasionally it works when the situation calls for celebration, but otherwise, it makes the text too busy to be comfortable visually.



  35. Cara Powers on October 19, 2009 at 10:14 AM

    >All italics is totally appropriate for internal thoughts if you use it consistently. You eliminate every "she thought."



  36. Julie Gillies on October 19, 2009 at 10:11 AM

    >Thanks for the laugh this morning, Rachelle.

    I have a friend who ends every sentence in her e-mails with an exclamation point. I always feel like she's yelling. LOL

    I appreciate the primer, and will take your wise words to heart.



  37. writer jim on October 19, 2009 at 9:57 AM

    >RACHELLE, Thanks for all the above info…from personal experience I bet that advice would be amoung the best for every beginning writer to LEARN.

    Since I attempt to be a submissive person, I will force myself to not use bold in my words mentioned earlier…thank you for answering that question.

    Why is the semi-colon dying? I think my overuse of ; is my worst writing punctuation problem. I know sometimes a dash works better.
    But often a semi-colon seems to let one sentece say things that you would otherwise need two (longer) setences.

    I use ! in dialog when someone is shouting in anger, etc. Don't those times require a ! to read correctly?



  38. Lea Ann McCombs on October 19, 2009 at 9:41 AM

    >I used to love exclamation points, but one author at a conference said he got his under control by taking them all out, and then pretending each cost $20 to put back in. He had to realy justify it before he allowed it back in his mss. I now use that technic and it helps.



  39. Angela James on October 19, 2009 at 9:21 AM

    >About 2 years ago, I did a post on exclamation points (I totally agree with you, Rachelle) but if you've never seen or heard the Dean Koontz quote on exclamation points, it's totally worth checking out. Hysterical.

    http://nicemommy-evileditor.com/blog/?p=823



  40. Nicole Amsler on October 19, 2009 at 9:19 AM

    >I am sorry I wasn't clearer. I was suggesting that people use quotations marks as emphasis instead of bold, italics or exclamation points. Again, as everyone has suggested, well-written prose doesn't require gimmicks to be understood.



  41. Rachelle on October 19, 2009 at 9:04 AM

    >Nicole, we did pet peeves a couple of Fridays ago, so that wasn't the point of today's post. And yes, several people mentioned pointless quotes as their pet peeves.



  42. Kristen Torres-Toro on October 19, 2009 at 8:59 AM

    >Ha! This was funny!

    I like this: "Your writing should be so effective by itself that the emphasis isn't necessary". Words to live–and write–by!



  43. Melanie Avila on October 19, 2009 at 8:57 AM

    >I've considered unfriending people on Facebook (or at least hiding their statuses) who abuse exclamation points and all caps. Annoying.

    I'm good about not using !!! in my wips, but I have let a lot of italics sneak it.

    and lol at Camille's comment. 🙂



  44. Camille Cannon Eide on October 19, 2009 at 8:54 AM

    >I KNOW!!!

    Off topic, but what is the deal with using lol in conversational emails, texts and blog comments? As it's used in phrases that clearly have no reason to cause the author to actually laugh OUT loud, what has lol become? Punctuation? Why? Someone please fill me in.

    Hey lol where are you? lol I have your book lol that you lol left in my car lol.

    (my 20something kids even make fun of how much their friends use lol for no apparent reason.)



  45. Nicole Amsler on October 19, 2009 at 8:50 AM

    >I can't believe nobody has mentioned pointless quotation marks yet. It is one of my "biggest pet peeves!"

    There is even a blog devoted to "pointless quotations." http://www.unnecessaryquotes.com/

    I am constantly training my business clients to remove them from blog posts, sales letter, press releases and "other" correspondence. For some reason, they feel it adds "emphasis." When I read text within "quotes," I hear sarcasm.

    (Quotation marks used as an example of what "NOT to do!")



  46. --Deb on October 19, 2009 at 8:46 AM

    >I try, I really do, not to use exclamation points in my usual prose (and that's mostly in dialogue). I even try not to use them in letters and notes (although it's truly hard to wish someone a Happy Birthday without that extra little emphasis). In things like tweets on Twitter, or quick little email message type things? I don't seem to be able to control them at all and always worry I sound like a 13-year old (grin).



  47. Carrie Bevell Partridge on October 19, 2009 at 8:44 AM

    >GUILTY!!!! Haha



  48. Rachelle on October 19, 2009 at 8:43 AM

    >Writer Jim, your sentence is stronger without the emphasis.

    Maya, of course there may be more ex pts in in dialogue, but your characters will be mighty annoying if they're constantly exclaiming things. Just be careful.

    Holly, italics are sometimes used for inner monologue. But I think you can see the point of my post is to be careful how you convey emphasis.

    Krista, parentheses are used in non-fiction, but they usually seem out of place in fiction. However, a judgment has to be made on a case by case basis.

    Matt, semi-colons are definitely out of fashion, especially in fiction. If you look around the web you'll find full-blown debates going on about the use of the poor dying semi-colon. I think it looks rather formal, and today we prefer a more casual style in our mass-appeal book.

    Richard, better luck next time.

    Roxane, you make a good point about the smiley face. In my professional estimation, the smiley face is a great invention and it helps smooth over many potential ruffled feathers in written communication. The nature of email, twitter and blogs is that it's "quick." We may not have time to craft our words as carefully as we should, and you're right, our tone may be lost. Keep on using the smiley faces, but don't over do it – only use it when you need it.



  49. Roxane B. Salonen on October 19, 2009 at 8:29 AM

    >Rachelle, my big issue in email conversations in particular is that I love to use smiley faces to indicate when I am smiling. :)I think it's because tone can be so hard to convey in email. But recently, I was given a little lecture by one of my mentors, who said that my smiles should come through in my words. Still, I am having a hard time taming this addiction. Is it time to seek professional help? :O



  50. Anonymous on October 19, 2009 at 8:15 AM

    >I use exc pts to show an excitable character's personality and dramatic flair in dialogue. Hope that's OK! (Can't help myself) Also love dots. But I agree: too much stylized punctuation is unnecessary and distracting.



  51. Marybeth Poppins on October 19, 2009 at 7:59 AM

    >I use !!!! so much in my twitters and blogs that I rarely feel the use them in my MS's. It's kinda like getting all the excitement out before the show. Oh and I'm a BIG over user of …. LOVE those little dots!



  52. Kelly Combs on October 19, 2009 at 7:38 AM

    >I use exclamation points all the time!! But it's the way I talk. I am exuburant! I do tone it down in professional writing, but if we were chatting, you'd see that I exclaim more than I say. !!



  53. Janna Qualman on October 19, 2009 at 7:25 AM

    >Yeesh, I'm going to have to watch my use of italics. Thanks for the heads up!



  54. Lydia Sharp on October 19, 2009 at 7:21 AM

    >On a first draft I use more italics than necessary. It's the number one thing I cut/change on the second draft. Exclamation points? Occasionally. The other two? Only in blog posts and similar things. Never in a manuscript.



  55. Rowenna on October 19, 2009 at 7:06 AM

    >The search and replace technique is a great idea for any writing tic, be it exclamation point trigger-happiness or overuse of a certain word. I used it for semi-colons; they're my weakness (drat!).



  56. Lisa Jordan on October 19, 2009 at 7:02 AM

    >The poor overused, unappreciated exclamation point…destined for the island of misfit punctuation. I think I have 5 exclamation points in my WIP, and those are in dialogue.

    I've never seen bold in fiction. My brain scans over italics and exclamation points. But, Krista mentioned the one thing that does trip me up–the use of parenthesis in fiction. I don't understand why some authors use them.

    I'm concerned I'm overusing em dashes and ellipses, but it's part of my voice. It may bug readers though. Hard to say.



  57. Richard Mabry on October 19, 2009 at 6:57 AM

    >After reading the first part of the post, I thought, "Oh, I'm so going to get her for this! She uses exclamation points all the time in her emails and tweets!" Then, doggone it, you qualified your statement to exclude those communications from the exclamation point ban. And I have to agree with you that it's best that exclamation points not be sprinkled liberally through a novel.
    So, once again, you're right. Hear that? You're right!!!



  58. Lori on October 19, 2009 at 6:54 AM

    >I completely agree with this. When using exclamation points or other tweaky things in formal writing, you lose credibility. It's like the boy who cried wolf. If you've used them so frequently, when you really need to use an exclamation point, the reader's eyes glaze over and the emphasis is lost.



  59. Jason on October 19, 2009 at 6:52 AM

    >By the way Maya, congrats on being a finalist in Nathan's first-paragraph challenge…well-deserved!!!!! 🙂



  60. Jason on October 19, 2009 at 6:50 AM

    >I've used italics before, but I've always heard that if you feel you need to use them, then there's probably better way to word the phrase. 🙂



  61. Matt Mikalatos on October 19, 2009 at 6:48 AM

    >You know what bugs me? Dialogue that's full of semi-colons. I don't know about you, but I try to never use semi-colons in my everyday speech. 🙂



  62. Krista Phillips on October 19, 2009 at 6:47 AM

    >The exclamation thing was one of the first writing rules I learned. My book had over twelve-hundred of them!

    I love a few sparingly used italics, but too many get bothersome. In the book I'm currently writing, my character is a newbie Christian and has these one sentence side-bar conversations with God that are totally funny and amateurish… and they are in italics as they are switched to first person. If they have a long conversation, I put it in quotes instead.

    Oh, here's a question. What is the current thought on using parenthesis (sparingly) instead of the emdash – or whatever it's called. Can you use () at all… or are they a huge slap on the hand no-no?

    I don't use them… but I see a lot of new writers do so. Just curious!



  63. Breeze on October 19, 2009 at 6:36 AM

    >So my instincts were right on this one then. I keep thinking maybe I should put an exclamation point in her but then I figure out a way to not. It's purely esthetic, I just don't like the way it looks.

    I never even thought to use bold but I do use the scattered italics…but very rarely.

    Thanks

    Breeze



  64. Steve Weddle on October 19, 2009 at 6:07 AM

    >FSFitzgerald said something like: "Using an exclamation point is like laughing at your own joke." Seems many folks agree with him.



  65. Em-Musing on October 19, 2009 at 6:06 AM

    >Great advice…
    And THANKS for excluding blogging!!!



  66. Katie Ganshert on October 19, 2009 at 5:55 AM

    >Unless somebody is shouting, I do not use exclamation points. They bother me when I read them in books, and they bother me when I read them in my manuscripts. I've never done all caps in a manuscript. That would be weird. The italics thing is what I need to get under control. I'm getting better…I think. 🙂 Thanks for the tips!



  67. Holly Bodger on October 19, 2009 at 5:46 AM

    >Totally agree about the exclamation points, but I thought italics were required for things like inner monologue. No?



  68. Timothy Fish on October 19, 2009 at 5:41 AM

    >I did a quick scan of my current WIP with approximately 81,000 words. I counted 69 exclamation points. Of course, all of them are in dialog and I can tell you that I labored in consideration of each one as it went in. But I didn't realize I had added so many.

    I never use bold for fiction and rarely in non-fiction. Italics is another story, since there are places where it is required, such as when using words from a different language, but never to provide directions to the reader concerning which words to emphesis. I figure that's akin to telling a reader how stupid you believe him to be.



  69. Maya / מיה on October 19, 2009 at 4:27 AM

    >Is there any kind of dispensation granted for dialogue? I just ran a search through my WIP, and I realized that I use exclamation points fairly often in dialogue (only when characters are actually exclaiming something). I did find that I could switch some of these to periods, but I want to keep others… I like the way they change the rhythm and the tone of voice I hear in the lines. What do you think?

    Writer Jim: we'll see what Rachelle says, but I vote no emphasis. I'd find even italics distracting from your clean writing!



  70. Havock21 on October 19, 2009 at 3:22 AM

    >I seriously laughed my arse off, for in blogging I am KNOWN for CAP, BOLD and all sorts of really weird stuff. I did the "OH NO", but read on…thank goodness. Its interesting, mainly because I'm publishing my scribble one chapter at a time if you call it on line. Practice as I go. BUT!, I will admit, I do not use bold, not over the top on exclamation marks either. WIth some luck and persistance, We might cross paths one day. You never ever know.



  71. writer jim on October 19, 2009 at 2:41 AM

    >To me this was so funny: I was sitting here writing the Introduction to my book, when I went to your blog, and read about "no bold." I was just now struggling, trying to somehow force myself not to make "exact" and "minor" bold in the following passage:

    "This book contains true narratives of my personal experiences throughout decades. I want to make it clear: I couldn’t always recall exact conversations and minor details, so I reconstructed them the best I could."

    To me it seems those two words should have some type emphasis; but caps are no good, and italics didn't seem right. I thought bold was needed.

    I'll bet the correct answer is NO EMPHASIS??



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