Stop! Back Away from the Exclamation Point! Yes, it’s a point of contention with me. I get aggravated over exclamation points. I never much liked this punctuation mark. I think it’s my least favorite unless you count an improper use of the semicolons. Now, properly used semicolons are a great form of style; they must be used correctly, though.
The same is true with the exclamation point.
Why, you might ask, do I have a problem with a seemingly harmless line with a dot at the bottom? Very simply: the exclamation point is a mark of punctuation that indicates your character is yelling, screaming, squealing, angry, scared to death, and a few other instances where talking loudly might be the norm. For example, if I’m in a car on a two-lane highway, and a semi-truck has crossed the line over into my lane, I’m not going to whisper, “Look out.” No, extreme fear is going to take over, and the scream will come from the brain, traveling through my nervous system and explode from my mouth. “Look out!”
Unless my character is a hyped-up annoying teenager, conversations, no matter how exciting, do not contain screaming or yelling. If my character is excited about something, they aren’t going to be screaming, “I can’t believe it! We’re going to the mall!” Likewise, it is a very rare occasion when I have an inner thought that makes me scream at myself. An exception to this rule might be when I hit my thumb with a hammer. Yeah, then I might be screaming a little at my stupidity.
When exclamations are peppered throughout a manuscript, the story wears out the reader. They might feel as if they’ve been called into the boss’s office for something akin to blowing up the chemical lab at work. All the yelling and screaming gives your readers headaches.
When self-editing your work, look for areas where exclamation points are unnecessary. With very few exceptions, one or two exclamation points in a manuscript will do. I will admit that as an author, I did have an editor argue with me over a scene in one of my works. She claimed that a mother cheering her son on during his Little League game did call for an exclamation mark. Of course, she was right.
There are other circumstances where a character may be prone to yelling what they say. I’ve encountered that situation in a recently edited book. The child was autistic and sometimes excitable. Not to include exclamation points in most of his conversations would take away from the character.
The point that is being made here is to use exclamations sparingly and for emphasis. By the way, using all such punctuation (semicolons, colons, em dashes, and ellipses) sparingly and for emphasis is the mark of style. Overuse of any of the above, a mark of rejection.