“Cut out all those exclamation marks. An exclamation mark is like laughing at your own joke.” That quotation is attributed to F. Scott Fitzgerald.
Do you agree with Mr. Fitzgerald?
When I attended my first writing conference for fiction, I heard all kinds of rules about writing and grammar. “Don’t use a semi-colon.” “Use one space after a period” (instead of the two I had used since typing class.) “Using adverbs is weak writing.” “Don’t use exclamation points.”
I immediately applied these rules in my own fledgling manuscript. I carried the exclamation rule over into my social media posts, too. My oldest daughter, the one we call our drama queen, finally commented that my posts were boring. “Show some excitement, Mom. Use an exclamation mark, for crying out loud!”
Her point was valid and, though I felt like a rebel, began adding exciting slashes and dots to my posts.
A few years later, I received an email from an author who was scheduled to speak at our library. Her message was filled with exclamation marks so much so that I expected her to be young, maybe a tad silly. I formed an opinion of her from her liberal use of emotional punctuation.
When we met, however, she shocked me with her professionalism in her presentation and assertiveness with regard to her marketing plan. Her real personality in no way matched the teenybopper image I’d formed from her email.
So here’re my thoughts:
Use exclamation marks in social media as much as you want. Realize, however, that some people think they’re overused. Others think they’re unnecessary.
Use them sparingly in personal correspondence. Realize that the marks have a tendency to mark the writer as immature and not professional.
Use them rarely for professional writing. Rare in this case means maybe once in a manuscript. Choose words to describe the intensity of the emotions. Don’t rely on punctuation to do so.
So what do you think about exclamation marks? Do you hate them? Do you use them? If you use them, how and when?
Hope Toler Dougherty holds a Master’s degree in English and taught at East Carolina University and York Technical College. Her publications include three novels as well as nonfiction articles. A member of ACFW, RWA, and SinC, she and her husband live in North Carolina and enjoy visits with their two daughters and twin sons.