An Exclamation Point is Like a Promise
“Cut out all these exclamation points. An exclamation point is like laughing at your own joke.”
~ Author unknown
Any regular reader of Writer Dad knows I rarely use the exclamation point. I don’t really have a rule in regard to its usage, but if I did, it would be something like this:
Deciding to use an exclamation point should be given the same sort of consideration one might use when making a promise, sparingly and only when meant.
My daughter often compels me to use the word promise, a word I love yet carry far too much respect for to use with frivolity. “Why won’t you just promise,” she’ll plead, eyes wide as a silver dollar and deep as bitter chocolate.
“Because I’m not positive I’ll be able to keep it.”
I’d much rather be able to say I never break a promise than cast the word about with abandon. My daughter might wish I’d promise more, but she knows well beyond the shadow of a doubt that every promise gliding from my lips is gilded in gold. Using an exclamation point with discretion, I would argue, imbues the same integrity to your writing.
I keep every promise I make and mean every exclamation point I use.
Text messaging, email, Twitter – new means of communication are refashioning our common tongue, yet as a season of too much rainfall reshapes a muddy slope, so will a decade of scattered symbols abbreviate out intent. I understand the evolution, and realize it’s a dubious platform to bridge positive parenting and potent writing, but I believe the lesson is apt. Just as lessening the frequency of our promises glazes each one with higher truth, minimizing our use of the exclamation point can only lead to an optimization of their overall effect.
A quick lesson in using the exclamation point
A sentence concluding with an exclamation point should either be an actual exclamation or a command, such as “Boo!,” “Wow!” or “Help!”
An exclamation point may also be used to convey the degree of a command. “I need a glass of water.” has an entirely different tone than, “I need a glass of water!”
An exclamation point can be used to convey excitement. “I can’t wait until it’s my birthday!” or “We’re almost there!” In both examples, the single exclamation point actually conveys more than the words themselves.
The exclamation point, I believe, has become the most overworked mark of the modern tongue. Of course I have no room to speak, I abuse the comma and semi-colon like my pet set of red headed stepchildren and let’s not even start on my ample exploitation of alliteration. However, I believe using an exclamation point when unnecessary will only dim even the strongest sentence.
“What a nice car!” “I had a great lunch!” or “That was a funny thing to say!” All would be far better minus the exclamation point. The best advice I can give is to read your work aloud and fill your breath with the strength an exclamation point suggests. If it sounds silly, it is.
Don’t make a promise you can’t keep or drop an exclamation point when it isn’t needed.