by Frankie Ballanetti
(San Diego, CA)
Hello, Mr. Strathy.
I'm certain you've been bothered with this question so I apologize. But a successful writer used '“Stand to attention, soldier!” the general shouted.' as an example of one of the few times it's acceptable to employ an exclamation point. I was wondering if you think using an exclamation point with a tag like "shouted" is redundant and therefore poor writing?
Thank you very much, sir!!!Answer:
I hope you're not trying to get me into an argument with this "successful writer" of whom you speak, because there are no hard, fast rules in these matters.
I might find "shouted" to be a little redundant in that example. I would also be inclined to not use three exclamation points in a row, unless my main character was perhaps a child writing in a diary and the genre was children's fiction.
But that is the point I should be making. On the one hand, it is valuable to improve your signal to noise ratio by eliminating words and typography that don't add anything of value to the story. On the other hand, you have to consider who your readers are and who your main character is in order to know what is valuable and what isn't.
If you are writing to a general audience or one that is less sophisticated, signals such as exclamation marks can help to convey emotion (or perhaps volume), provided they are not over used.
On the other hand, if you are writing to a more literary audience, they will demand a more refined style. They may find excess typography and verbs in speech tags to be distracting. Literary writers may therefore be more inclined to leave out exclamation marks or quotation marks and rely on the words themselves to convey emotion or differentiate between dialogue and narration. They would also be more likely to use "said" in speech tags rather than more colourful verbs.
In addition to knowing your audience and what they need to enjoy the story, much can be gained by writing in a voice that is authentic to your main character. And if your main character is younger or less sophisticated, it may be more authentic to have them use more exclamation marks, colloquial grammar, etc.
Nuance is everything.