If You See One of These in Your Novel–Kill it!

What am I referring to? An EXCLAMATION POINT.

Here’s why:

  • They interrupt the reader.
  • They scream amateur.
  • They tell the publisher that you haven’t mastered showing versus telling.
  • They’re a sign of weak writing. If your prose are good enough the reader will feel the emotion without you pointing it out.
  • They force the reader to think or feel a certain way.
Here’s the definition of EXCLAIM: To cry out or speak suddenly or excitedly, as from surprise, delight, horror, etc. A good writer can show this without using the POINT.

But what if your pov character is a total teen drama queen? Use her motions, her body language, her sarcasm, and her dialogue to portray her excitability or her drama characteristics. Trust that your reader will SEE her as an exclaimer. Maybe you could show it in her text messages if you’ve included them in your story.

Stop now and go to your wip (work-in-progress) and do a search and FIND how many of these you currently have. Well? How many? You should only have ONE in your entire novel. FIND and REPLACE the others with a period. Then, take a look at your scenes and determine if you need to rewrite them with stronger verbs to show better emotion. Your readers will be glad you did.

Imagine if you had three exclamation points on each page of your novel and your book was 300 pages long. You’d have 900 rocking moments in your novel. How could they all have the same intensity? They wouldn’t. They’d lose their value and I guarantee the reader would put your book down before chapter five, exhausted from the intrusion.

Michelle L Devon, a professional writer and freelance editor says, “In a novel, the only time you should use an exclamation point is in dialog, unless it is written in such a way that the novel has a narrator speaking to the reader or the novel is written in first person, present tense (sometimes past tense works too), memoir style, and this is not the traditional, common writing style and a very hard one to sell to a publisher, not impossible, but hard. Placing an exclamation point in the text of a fiction novel that is not dialog is one example of something known as ‘author intrusion’, where the author is trying to lead the reader to what they should be able to clearly see by the words and description.

Fess up: How many points did you find in your wip?



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  1. Lynette Bleed says:

    Great info!
    (smiles) Love the great writing helps here.

    • Thanks for the note. It tells me you’re not sore at me. Ha!
      Of course, you inspired this post, but MANY writers do this–including me.
      Have a great writing week!

  2. Robin says:

    Uh-oh. I just counted mine and am embarrassed at the number… The good news is there are about half as many in my current WIP, even though it’s only the first draft. Of course, it’s not finished yet…

  3. This is one of the things all new writers do–along with putting things in all caps. I always ask, “Why are you screaming at your reader?” Great advice on one of my huge pet peeves 🙂

    • Hi Lori! Thanks for stopping by and I agree about the caps, too. I laughed at your comment, “Why are you screaming at your reader?”

  4. I once heard that you should have no more than one “!” in your whole manuscript. Great article, Michelle! I have to admit I like exclamation points, but now I’m editing them out 99.9% of the time.

  5. Emily says:

    I disagree in…some ways. Exclamation marks are there for a reason, and I don’t think you should omit them entirely. In dialogue they can be useful. You’re going to lose intensity if you don’t lose an exclamation mark. That said, I agree with not using exclamation marks in other parts of your novel…as in, not dialogue.

  6. Hi Emily, I love that you stood up for what you believe and disagree! From what I’ve read, you’re right, using exclamation marks should be used more in dialogue than anywhere else. What are you reading now? Count how many exclamation marks that author uses in his/her novel. I’d be curious to know. And who knows, maybe you could start a new trend and prove all the others wrong–write a successful novel that has tons of these points in them.

    • Emily says:

      Apart from dialogue I don’t use them anywhere. Just to see, I looked at the exclamation marks in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (reading it at the moment), and found quite a few in the dialogue, especially of McMurphy. I remember in Harry Potter there’s even a scene where Harry uses caps, so I guess there’s no hard and fast rule concerning things like that. I just think that, even with dialogue tags, exclamation marks can help intensify your point. Thanks for the article, though 🙂 interesting to read comments.

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