By Andrea Merrell
As an editor, one of the most common errors I see is overuse of the exclamation point. This may not seem like a big deal, but when it comes to submitting your work, too many of these annoying little marks can send your manuscript to the trash bin.
To prove this point (no pun intended), let’s look at a portion of literary agent Chip McGregor’s blog post What Drives an Editor Crazy?
Someone wrote to ask a favorite question: “Are there certain editing errors that drive you
Yes! Of course! Here’s one! Novelists who use exclamation points as their keyboard!
I hate this! Really! What’s worse is the writer who needs to use several at once!!!!
All editors will say a hearty “amen.”
Am I saying you can never use exclamation points (EPs) in your writing? Certainly not, but it’s important to know how to use them properly. Technically, they’re only appropriate when someone is shouting or showing extremely strong emotion.
Example: As three-year-old Susie ran toward the busy street, her mother shouted, “Susie, stop!”
Example: “Don’t tell me what I should or shouldn’t do!” Robert shouted.
In most cases, writers use unnecessary EPs when trying to make a point (pun intended) or when they become very excited about what they’re sharing. I once edited a book that contained over 200 EPs—honestly—no exaggeration. All but two or three were deleted from this otherwise excellent book.
This is one issue that could cause immediate rejection of your manuscript by an agent, editor, or publisher. Don’t take a chance. Limit your EPs to personal e-mails, texts, and social media messages (notice I said personal—not professional).
To eliminate this problem in your writing, use strong verbs and more showing (not telling). Trust your readers to “get it.” Anything in your writing that is redundant (exclamation points, italics, quotation marks, ellipses, en and em dashes, words, or phrases) will wear on your reader and pull them out of your story.
Homework: Go through your current WIP (work in progress) and use the Find button on your toolbar to locate your EPs. You might be surprised at what you discover. Then you’ll be able to look at each one and decide whether or not it’s appropriate. If not, delete it or get busy rewording.
Photo courtesy of morguefile.com and lauramusikanski