Monday, May 21, 2012

And What About Exclamation Marks!

I guess I'm on a punctuation march. Last week it was the eclectic ellipsis. This time it's the exclamation mark. Of course, we all know that it's used to denote an exciting sentence. In children's literature some of us get carried away, however, with placing it at the end of every sentence in dialogue. We can't help ourselves.

"Hi, Mary! School was fun!"
"It sure was, Billy! I can wait to go back tomorrow!"
"I don't think so! Tomorrow's Saturday!"

None of those sentences actually require an exclamation mark, except Billy's last one. Maybe. One might well wonder whether one even needs such a badly written conversation -- ever -- in their manuscripts. But I digress. What about exclamation marks? Tell us your secret uses for it.


  1. I have no secret uses for them! I use them all the time! It's like my prose is overcaffeinated! and probably I am too! Wait, I haven't had any caffeine since yesterday....

    yeah, generally I have to go through my novel and take out all the extra exclamation marks because I get a little, let us say overenthusiastic on that score. :P

  2. Eleanora, exclamation marks make my skin crawl. Oh, such an inventive metaphor. I allow my students one a manuscript. Maybe I should say one a semester. So I have no secret uses, except perhaps - Fire!

  3. Same here, Claire. I'd also argue that in many cases an exclamation mark is the product of lazy writing--the writer places more emphasis on the punctuation rather than crafting dialogue that will carry its own weight/power. Another great post, Eleanora. :0)

  4. Melinda, Claire and Mellisa! I see we share the same opinion about exclamation marks. I think I decided to write about them after reading a five-page manuscript from an aspiring writer in which exclamation marks ended each sentence in the characters' conversations.
    Perhaps we can delete the exlamation mark from all typewriters, computers, ipads, etc. etc. Whoops! The etc. etc.! There's another one!

  5. Whoa! Let's not throw the baby out with the bathwater. I agree about wielding the exclamation point cautiously or it looses it's power. But some visceral sensation words are more effective with it than without. Which better portrays getting hit upside the head with a soccer ball: "Thwack." or "Thwack!"

    Plus, many of our young readers express themselves regularly in statements that are spoken as if they have an exclamation point at the end. We don't need to put them on the page as often as they are expressed in actual dialogue, but used appropriately, they can convey an authentic connection with our readers'/characters' lives. In Ramona the Pest, the MC has a dispute with another kindergartner about whether she scribble-scrabbled on a picture:

    "I did not!" protested Ramona...
    "You did, too!" Joey ran up to the chalk rail and pointed to Ramona's black swirls. "See!"

    These sentences are not nearly as authentic without the exclamation points. This isn't a dull disagreement about something unimportant. It is serious stuff, expressed directly and simply.

  6. Good point, Cheryl. But this is an excerpt from the gifted Beverly Cleary. We must be very intentional, eh?