ORDER, ORDER, exclaimed the Leader of The House
Originating in the 15th century, the exclamation point meant ‘Mark of Admiration.’ This has to be one of the most confusing and overused tools of grammar and for me, a ‘Mark of Frustration.’
I have to say that views expressed here are mine only, and you can make what you will of them. Just remember the one golden rule most new writers ignore because they think adding this grotesque grammar tool makes their work look more dramatic and super cool. Don’t pepper the dialogue with exclamation points. In fact, the overuse of the exclamation point can ruin a perfectly good manuscript.
When I first wrote ‘Isia’s Secret,’ the prologue contained plenty of action and a gunfight on a beach. At the same time, I bought a book written by a literary agent, entitled ‘The First Seven Pages.’ The agent listed all the things he looked for to throw an author’s work on the slush pile. The exclamation point came to the top of the list. If he found these points in the first seven pages, then there was a 90% chance that the author had sprinkled them throughout the book. He would read no further. I was stunned to find that I had twenty-two of these points in my prologue and removed them all. There is nothing worse for a reader than to be unable to read a smooth passage of dialogue when he or she is continually tripped up by what I call speech blocks. They are very distracting.
Used sensibly, there are ways for the ex-point to indicate an argument or a shout, in a quiet way.
“What the hell are you doing here!” shouted John.
What is the point in using the ex-point when you are telling the reader that John is shouting? Here you need not use the ex-point.
John looked at Paul with narrowed eyes. “What the hell are you doing here!”
“Same as you, you nasty piece of work.”
In a protracted argument between two characters, just use one ex-point at the beginning of the confrontation so that we all know both characters are speaking or shouting angrily at each other. Note that if you do this make sure you don’t write,’John shouted.’
The exclamation point is used for the raised voice in three main areas – Surprise, pleasure, and anger.
“Oh, Mary, how lovely! How really lovely!
For goodness sake, how awful. If you think how a woman would sound here, her first pronunciation of ‘lovely’ would be in a normal voice and the second time around her voice would be raised. The first ex-point can be deleted, or…
Try getting around using the ex-point. What about – Joyce listened to the news and touched Mary’s arm gently. “Oh Mary, how lovely. How really lovely.”
I’m not a killjoy but for me, thinking how I can avoid using the ex-con has helped me think more about dialogue sentence construction, and this has helped improve my style and writing standards.