Monday, May 26, 2014

Execute the Exclamation!!!!

by Andrea Merrell

You might be wondering about the title and exactly what I mean by executing the poor little exclamation point. After all, what's he done that's so bad?

Actually, let’s look at it two ways, according to Merriam-Webster’s.

First, we can "carry it out and produce what is required or expected to give validity to." We can also "perform the fundamentals properly and skillfully."

Second, we can kill it—wipe it out—put it to death.

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 crazy?”

Yes! Of course! Here’s one! Novelists who use exclamation points as though the period key didn’t work on their keyboard! I hate this! Really! What’s worse is the writer who needs to use several at once!!!!!
As an editor, I say a hearty "Amen!"

Are we saying you can never use exclamation points (EPs) in your writing? Absolutely not. The key is to know when and how to use them properly. They are appropriate when someone is shouting or showing extremely strong emotion.

Example: As three-year-old Susie was about to wander into the busy street, her mother shouted, “Susie, stop!”

In most cases, writers use unnecessary EPs when they are trying to make a point (pun intended), or they are very excited about what they are sharing. I once edited a book that contained anywhere from 200-300 EPs—honestly—no exaggeration. All but two or three were deleted from this otherwise excellent book.

This is an issue that could cause immediate rejection of your manuscript by an agent, editor, or publisher. Don’t take that chance. Limit your EPs to personal e-mails, texts, tweets, and FB messages (notice I said personal . . . not professional).

To eliminate this problem altogether, use strong verbs and more showing. Trust your reader 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. We will touch on these elements in another blog post. Until then, leave a comment and share your battle with the infamous EP.

(Photo courtesy of


  1. Andrea,
    Thank you for this post. As a rookie writer, my editor gave me this rule of thumb for the use of exclamation points: "Only use if someone is shrieking." Now that I'm an editor, this is my policy as well.

    Honestly, a submission with misused and overused exclamation points reminds me of an adolescent teenager writing a journal entry. The next thing I look for is whether she dots her eyes with little tiny hearts. It's unprofessional and has ROOKIE written all over it.

    I second your post -- stay away from overuse if you want to be taken seriously as a writer.

    1. Thanks so much for your input, Lori. This is one of the hardest habits for writers to break, but a MUST for clean and professional manuscripts.


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