05 October 2011

What’s wrong with exclamation points?!

There are many obvious things to look for when revising your novel (See When You Write a Book). But sometimes it’s the little things that can make a big difference. When reviewing work by other writers, or my own, I look for certain sneaky little flaws that can hinder the flow or quality of the writing. Here are three of them:

Exclamation Points. When used correctly, they make a statement pop! The problem occurs when a writer wants to make a lot of sentences pop! Overusing them is like being the little boy who cried wolf. It also  gives the narrator a more juvenile voice, bringing to mind comic books or that old Batman show (POW!).                                                                                                                 

Even if your work is geared toward a younger generation, don’t shortchange your writing ability with these tempting little suckers. Sure, they get the idea across that someone is yelling or something has suddenly happened. But those things can be better expressed through the building up of suspense and emotion, setting and dialogue.                                                         

The exclamation point isn’t to be hated or blacklisted. Use it. But do so sparingly and you’ll increase its punch.

Short sentences. Periods make the eye stop. They express statements. Statements are grouped in paragraphs. Many short statements make a paragraph choppy. However, when you combine short sentences into a longer one with a comma, the result is a more natural flow. Short sentences are an excellent tool for drawing the reader’s eye to a crucial point; they can even sometimes be used instead of an exclamation point. So use them wisely and the result will be writing that’s more poignant and easier to read. 

Names. "Sally, I don’t understand your point."
"June, my point is that you say my name too much." 
"I don’t, Sally. You’re imagining it." 

"June, you think I’m imagining things? You’re cruel, June." 

No one actually talks like this. If you want your dialogue to sound authentic be careful not to let your characters repeat each other’s names. I’ve fallen into this habit plenty of times and only caught it later when I was proofreading. It’s surprisingly easy to do this and not notice it, so be on guard.

These are just a few of the bad habits that can creep up when writing. And as I always say when it comes to anything artistic, there is no real rule. Go ahead and go crazy with exclamation points, short sentences and names if you can make it work. But if your writing sounds choppy or unpolished, look for one or more of these habits and see if that’s the cause of the problem.

Good luck and happy writing :)

No comments:

Post a Comment