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.