I've written on this subject before, but recently I've watched as an epidemic has spread from one manuscript to another. I feel the subject is screaming to be approached once again.
First, let me ask a few questions. How many conversations have you engaged in where the person or persons you are communicating with literally scream every bit of information they give to you? How many individuals in a group squeal with excitement over mundane information they want to share? Lastly, how many times do your own thoughts scream at you?
I'm teased many times because I really abhor an abundance of exclamation points. My own annoyance with them once led me to ask the advice of a very well-known literary agent who graciously commented that more than one exclamation point per manuscript screams--yes, screams! amateur author.
The common theme among authors today is the use of exclamation points for emphasis when, in actuality, are very few reasons for an exclamation point when used correctly. These reasons would include: your character is either screaming at the top of his or her lungs or they are excited beyond measure--real excitement, such as finding out that a long-lost relative has left you his entire estate, which includes a private island, a private jet, half of the real estate in America, and a diamond mine in Africa. Now, that might elicit an exclamation from even me.
So dear self-editor, look at each of your exclamation points. If your characters are in a conversation dotted by !'s, ask yourself if they are truly screaming or yelling so that everyone can hear them. Are they excited about what they have to say so much that they'd actually squeal over the news. Are they crying out for help? Do your inner thoughts really need to bellow to get your attention?
Imagine the scene in your head. If you were truly a part of what's going on, would the loudness of what is being said give you a headache.
Then, delete every unworthy exclamation point you find. Replace the lazy showing of emphasis by replacing the punctuation with action and or dialogue that says so much more than the exclamation point can convey.
And happy editing.