I Think I Use Too Many Exclamation Points!!!

by Mike Chiero

Question: How does one determine that one is using too many exclamation points? Should they be avoided at all costs? Writers are discouraged from dialogue tags such as "Glen screamed" and "Mike shouted" and the like but without using an exclamation point how does a writer get the point across effectively without violating a rule? Thanks, Mr. Strathy!!!

Answer: If you think you're using too many exclamation points, you're using too many exclamation points.

The general guideline in fiction writing is that you want to improve the signal to noise ratio.

The signal is the story. You want to includes the words you need to convey the story to the reader the most direct and visceral experience possible.

The noise is anything that is redundant or that distracts from the signal. It is anything that is not part of the story.

So, regarding dialogue tags, it is usually better to use simple tags that don't draw attention from the actual words the characters say. This makes it easier for the readers to experience the illusion that they are "hearing" the dialogue as if they were actually present.

Along the same lines, excessive use of punctuation marks is considered a distraction -- more noise.

A reader should be able to deduce the emotion from the character's actual words and actions. Exclamation marks, while they may be helpful on occasion, are often redundant. Frequent use of them can be distracting.

In a similar vein, some writers don't even use quotation marks, believing that if the dialogue is good, it should be obvious what is speech and what is narration.

Of course, it also depends what genre you are writing in. Literary fiction favours authenticity and style above all and tends to shoot for the highest signal to noise ratio.

In genre fiction, aimed for a more general audience, quotation marks, question marks, and occasional exclamation marks are seen as helpful to the readers. Also, a more elaborate speech tag can also be helpful on occasion if it makes the tone of the dialogue clearer.

However, I would not generally use more than one exclamation point per chapter in any genre, other than perhaps children's fiction.

Comments for I Think I Use Too Many Exclamation Points!!!

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Thank You Sir
by: Mike Chiero

Thank you very much for your reply, Mr. Strathy. I appreciate all your advice and help. I and many others are very lucky to have come upon your wonderful site. Thanks again, sir.

Exclamation marks
by: Anonymous

Only one exclamation mark in one chapter? Well, I have two questions about that now:
- I don't know if my story is child fiction, more like teenage fiction.Is it accepted, in this case, a story with loads of fights, to have several exclamations in each chapter?
- Is too much random questions, shouts and insecurity from the main character annoying, making her look whiny and boring?

by: Glen

I suggest you try taking out some of the exclamation points and see if the emotion is still clear from the words. If it is (and if often is) then you may be better off leaving the exclamation points out. A lot of exclamation points can look hokey.

I can't answer your second question without reading your story -- and even then, it's subjective. But if she feels whiny and boring to you, that could be a problem. See if you can write her so that her insecurities, anxieties, and confusion seem realistic and justified, so that your reader will feel empathy for her.

by: MF

Well, when I feel like I have used too many exclamation marks, I use capitals instead. It sometimes feels like its a little too exagerated-even if it isn't. For example, the main character is uncertain about her objective and her friends try to convince her to keep going, but she keeps insisting it might not work out. That's when the exclamation marks and the "whiny character" appears. But she doesn't really seen so boring, she HAS reasons to be sad/depressed and feel kinda "out" of what she dreamed. She plans to defeat her father, a terrible guy, but only 5 of the thousand guys who work for him could easily defeat her friends. It seems like a reason to be sad and insistent. But... I don't know. She's got tons of reasons but it seems too cheesy, exagerated. She says things like "Maybe we are just being reckless", and it's true. She just looks too sad and pessimistic to me, even if she's being realistic. Maybe it's just me?

To: MF
by: Glen

Suggestion: all caps looks even more amateurish than exclamation points. You can get away with them sometimes in genre fiction, but use them sparingly. You're not writing a text message.

Again, the emotion should be apparent from the character's words and actions, not the typography.

by: MF

Ok then... I use the words a lot and I know that's the most important part, but started wondering when I saw this page... Thanks!

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