Don’t Use Exclamation Points in Your Writing!!!

Find Out Why NOT!!! 😀

Author Don Massenzio

This post was inspired by the book, Nabokov’s Favorite Word Is Mauve, by Ben Blatt. This book applies numbers and statistics to some of the age-old adages about writing that we have all been told numerous times. Last week, I posted on the topic of adverb usage.

Exclamation points are the bane of some writers. In his book 10 Rules of Writing, Elmore Leonard states his rule of thumb on exclamation points. “You are allowed no more then two or three per 100,000 words of prose.”

So, just like with Stephen King and his adverb ratio, Blatt sets out to see if Leonard and other renowned writers subscribe to this rule. He starts by analyzing Leonard’s 45 novels which total 3.4 million words. His rule would have resulted in the use of 102 exclamation points in his writing over his career. His actual number was 1,651 which…

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15 thoughts on “Don’t Use Exclamation Points in Your Writing!!!

  1. I agree with Kevin. And furthermore, I don’t agree that all writing should be measured with Elmore Leonard’s ruler. He wrote in a particular genre — tough guy crime fiction. Conventions suitable for that type of fiction may be completely wrong for romance or fantasy. But, to come full circle, I do agree that exclamation points are best when used sparingly — sort of like pepper in cooking.

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  2. Don’t ever say ‘don’t’ in writing tips! There is always some call for exclamation marks. I don’t believe one should be left out of what is meant to be an exclamation, even if you have specified that ‘he shouted’. Also, even the most dramatic comments can be said rather than exclaimed. The mark tells one which is intended. However, there is no excuse for using them where there is nothing to show why the remark should have been an exclamation. ‘Looks as if it might rain.’ ‘Looks like rain, and I left my umbrella!’

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  3. 60 in a 1st draft of 88,000. All in dialogue or internal thought.
    Rarely in dialogue can you write ‘Oh’ (or ‘eek’ etc) without putting an exclamation point – or have a character shout without using one unless you capitalize all letters, and all caps should be used even more sparingly than exclamation points.However the use of exclamation points in narrative reeks of author intrusion: ‘You will be impressed here!’, ‘You will be afraid here!’ – if you don’t want to look like an amatuer don’t do it.

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  4. Two things to consider when looking at exclamation point frequency in works of fiction:

    1) How often are they used in dialog as opposed to outside of dialogue?
    2) What age range is the author aiming at? (I’d expect Young Adult readers would enjoy more exclamation points as compared to older adult readers.)

    I remember when I was going through my final drafts of Dissecting Antismokers’ Brains that I set a goal for myself to get rid of half my exclamation points and 3/4 of my italics and bold emphases. Heh, I *still* overdid it on both, but those cuts were a big improvement!

    – MJM

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  5. I find the excessive use of exclamation marks extremely irritating! In fact I, personally try to avoid their use entirely! Imagine if I ended all my sentences with an exclamation point, readers would soon become anoyed with my style of writing! Consequently I shall continue to avoid the use of this pesky form of punctuation! Seriously, as as has often been said, rules are made to be broken. I am always sceptical of those who say that all one needs to be a good writer is to do/not do such and such. Excessive use of exclamation points is, no doubt generally a bad thing. I would, however be reluctant to lay down creteria as regards their correct utilisation. Kevin

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