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Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Exclamation Point Limit

We all know an exclamation point is this nifty little symbol: ! Exclamation points are used at the end of a sentence to indicate enthusiasm, surprise, urgency, or other strong feelings such as happiness and anger.

In dialogue it can be used when a character is cheering or shouting. A single word can also be followed by an exclamation point like: Oh! Congratulations! Hurry! Help!

Exclamation points don’t have to be used all the time to express exciting emotions, though. Vivid descriptions can be just as effective. You can show your characters in a fight, tell your readers that their voices are growing louder. Using detailed dialogue tags is another option. 


With that said, someone once told me a rule she heard: Only use 10 exclamation points per manuscript. One writer actually said not to use them AT ALL because they add nothing. I've even read in a grammar book that they should be avoided wherever possible.

Exclamation points shouldn’t be used haphazardly. However, I personally find it limiting to reduce the exclamation points in our books to 10 or less. First, who has the time to count them? Not I! Second, if they are spaced out, a reader won’t even notice them if they are warranted. Third, 10 seems like an awfully small number when you consider a full manuscript complete with action scenes and dialogue. And not use them at all? Then why do they exist, I wonder?




Some writers may not use exclamation points, but I do. All I can say is to follow the rules that make sense to you and ignore the ones that don’t. You have that right! (Exclamation point.) *wink*


QUESTIONS: Do you count your exclamation points? Do you remember this episode of Seinfeld?


60 comments:

  1. !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    Ten seems like a really small amount. I do use them too much, but I'll go through and reduce the number during edits. Still way more than ten though.

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    1. LOL! Ten is a small amount. In my first draft, I tend to use more than I should but I do cut out many while editing. There's still probably more than ten though.

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  2. I've never heard of that rule!!!!!!!!!!
    The nice thing about being writers is we are all our own persons. This means we can either follow the rules or break them. Ten seems a bit limiting. I can't imagine a suspense or thriller not having characters yelling or getting excited. This makes me want to count my exclamation points, lol

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    1. Exactly! I believe in following the rules we want to and laughing at the ones that are ridiculous to us. ;) Each writer to hisher own.

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  3. I use them every once in a while, they may add nothing, but they don't really hurt anything either, if used sparingly

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    1. I don't think they hurt either if they are necessary.

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  4. I use them sometimes if and when needed.
    Good post.

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  5. I've heard of that rule but think 10 is way too limiting.

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  6. I don't count them, but I notice I use them far more frequently in social media than I do in writing. Maybe my writing isn't exciting enough. Or maybe I just want a comeback of the interrobang‽

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    1. LOL! I think social media writing is more laid back and that's why we are free to break out the exclamation point. ;)

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  7. I don't count them, either. I do try to limit them in my writing, but I do use them a lot when I leave blog comments and tweets. Don't know why that is...

    I guess 'cause I'm happy! :)

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    1. I love using them for blog comments, too! ;)

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  8. I use them very sparingly, and I tend to remove them from my clients' manuscripts. You really can convey the impact of an exclamation point without using one, and often times it is so much more powerful that way.

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    1. I agree. Being more creative with dialogue and being more detailed can carry the impact of an exclamation point.

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  9. ha, LOVE this Seinfeld clip. :) I'm an exclamation point maniac. I remember my agent once did a blog about how she overdoes them and I was just like ME TOO!!!!!!!! lol ...I really do try to watch it in my MSs though. I think there was only one character who used them in my last MS b/c she was very dramatic and hyper. Since I try to watch it in MSs, I of course go way overboard in texting/blogging/speaking! lol

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    1. I tend to go overboard in blogging and commenting as well. Exclamation points are so much fun! ;) And I like that you used exclamation points for a dramatic character as part of her personality. That's perfect!

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  10. I've never given them that much thought but you brought up a great topic. I love the Seinfeld scene! I agree with you Chrys, that not all rules make sense especially for creative writing. I know grammar is important but to actually count exclamation points? Nah!!!!!

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    1. I hadn't given exclamation points much thought either until I came across these "rules."

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  11. Only 10? I hadn't heard of this rule! See? I used one just now, lol. I don't mind them while reading as long as they're not overdone. Sometimes, you just need to indicate that someone is yelling and there's nothing wrong with that. And I sure as heck don't count them. Who has time for that?

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    1. I agree! There's nothing wrong with using an exclamation point to indicate a character's emotions. I know you don't have time to count exclamation points, Quanie. Not with your one month old baby!

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  12. They can certainly be overdone - but then so can anything.

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    1. You're right. Anything can be overdone.

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  13. LOL! I used to use them WAY too much, but what newbie doesn't? 10 per manuscript seems a bit tight to me, but then, are they talking about a 10k manuscript or a 100k one? I say, sprinkle them to taste, but remember they stand out. Less is more.

    Unleashing the Dreamworld

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    1. Sprinkle them to taste. I like that. I'm not sure what length the rule specifies, but since I was told this after a beta reader read a novella of mine I don't think she meant 10k or even 30k, but novel-length.

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  14. I used to overuse exclamation points, and am now rather embarrassed at how frequently I saw fit to have characters deliver so many lines in screaming or otherwise exclamatory tones of voice. I suppose that was yet another point of influence from all the other books I read. The old Five Little Peppers series is particularly awful in this regard, the first book most of all. These people scream, cry, shout, yell, exclaim, etc., at the drop of a hat. There must be hundreds of exclamation points littered through the books.

    I don't agree with folks who say you should never use exclamation points. If there's a very tense scene, like someone pleading for one's life, or a violent fight between former best friends, you kind of need to use exclamation points to realistically convey the emotions.

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    1. I can certainly see where a book like "Five Little Peppers" overused exclamation points. That would just be annoying.

      I agree. Exclamation points are needed, just as long as they aren't used for every line of dialogue.

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  15. I used to use a lot of exclamation points. Then a critique partner pointed out that I was being a little excessive. Now I use them in a very limited way. I guess not everything can be urgent and exciting! ;0)

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    1. Not everything can be urgent or exciting but there are different times when they are necessary.

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  16. i loved your post Chrys! I love the look of exclamation marks! I mean, how can you not want to use them? They're quirky. They're a design that's unique. Like the squiggly question mark sign (can you do a post on that next?). A straight line and a dot. Who'd have thought it? That is some amazing writing from Seinfeld and made me laugh all over again especially put in your post as it was. Thank you for a giggle and a smile!!!

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    1. You're welcome for the giggle and smile, Jedda! I also love the look or question marks and exclamation points. And thank you so much for liking my FB page!! :D

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  17. I like exclamation points!!!!!!!!!! it's just saying I am really meaning it. haha! PS read hurricane crimes, Chris. applauding you!

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    1. I like them, too!!!! ;) Yay! I'm so happy that you liked Hurricane Crimes, Tammy. :D

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  18. I tell my art students that for every rule of art that seems absolute there is an artist who because ridiculously famous for breaking it!!!!!

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  19. It seems so silly to have a blanket rule like that -- why 10? Why not 9 or 11? What about the MS length?
    As long as the writer uses them well, there's no reason not to use 'em!

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  20. I'm REALLY careful about how I use them in my writing - they only really ever appear in dialogue - but I'm definitely guilty of overusing them otherwise! See? I just did it again. In emails, blog posts, comments....I do love my exclamation points :)

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    1. LOL! I am guilty of overusing them in blog posts, comments, and emails too. ;)

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  21. I rarely use them in manuscripts, but I have used them.Now, when it comes to blog posts and comments- skies the limit baby!!!!!!!!!

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  22. Like any device, use it only when it's needed. That's one of my many personal rules and it's worked well for me so far. :)

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  23. Thought provoking stuff. Though not a writer I am aware that I can overuse both the exclamation mark and the comma.

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    1. Both are very easy to overuse. I overuse them, too.

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  24. I have never counted them before but after working with editors I've learned not to add many, but I am tempted all the time to add a few just for fun.

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    1. Yes, I've learned to take them out while editing, but still...only 10?

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  25. Exclamation point! I've always taken this for granted. Thanks, Chrys!

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  26. I use them all the time in emails and social media--I would label myself as an exclamation point junkie, lol, but when writing fiction, I tend to use them sparingly. I think it's one of those "guidelines" that some people have probably taken to the extreme. Not using more than 10 in a manuscript does seem to be a bit arbitrary.

    However, I can also see the reasoning behind it. If a writer relies on their use too much, chances are that they are missing opportunities to show character expression and gestures. So, I think it's safe to say that in many instances, if the writing is strong, the exclamation point isn't necessary.

    I just use them if a character is really excited, yelling, or shrieking, but I always make sure to show their reaction, too. :)

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    1. I think this guideline has been taken to the extreme, too.

      I agree, Gisele, so much can be done to show a character's reaction than by just using an exclamation point.

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  27. I find myself using explanation points more frequently in short comments (ie, chatting, text messages or tweets). However, 10 per book seems to be a little limited. Happy Thanksgiving! (an explanation point seems necessary here! :)

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    1. I find myself doing the same thing. :)

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  28. I find myself not using them much. I know I should because they add excitement and expression to the written words.

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  29. I often use exclamation marks in my blog comments (they really express excitement for a fellow-blogger better than the calm period) but I cut it down in my manuscript. Ten sounds all right to me, unless it's an excitable character's monologue. Then I'll increase to twenty.

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    1. Increase to twenty. Haha! I like that! ;)

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  30. I don't use exclamation points all that often in my manuscripts, but I do use them. I'm not sure how many, because, like you. I don't count them.

    I didn't remember that Seinfeld episode. Fun!! (oooh, double exclamation points)

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    1. LOL!! Another double exclamation points. ;)

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