1. marcusl
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    marcusl Member

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    Excessive exclamations

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by marcusl, Nov 28, 2009.

    I've recently read a novel where the characters shouted at each other a lot. As a result, exclamation marks littered the page. Many people reckon using exclamations excessively isn't professional, but is it okay in dialogue?

    Let's say there's a psychopath who screams, "I'll kill all of you!". If we don't use the exclamation, the tone might not be clear?

    Thanks.
     
  2. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    One way to get around this is to mention it in the narrative. So, instead of
    you could write
    or something to that effect.

    This is a personal preference, but I don't like too many exclamation points and would prefer the writer find ways to get rid of them.
     
  3. lavendershy
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    lavendershy Contributing Member

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    My general opinion on this and most similar questions is that if it's useful, if it augments the text, use it. If it in any way detracts from the paragraph or sentence or becomes redundant, cut it out or find a way to modify the text so as to make it more workable. If a psychopath is screaming, an exclamation mark is perfectly fine. You're right that the sentence would not work without it. Exclamation points are valid punctuation marks, and to eliminate them entirely from your writing can only damage your work. They're like anything other tool or technique - if they're useful, use them. If they're not, don't. And one thing with your suggestion, Thirdwind, is just that dialogue is a lot more interesting than descriptions. Then again, I shouldn't argue with it as I've done it myself.

    Cheers,

    lavendershy
     
  4. KP Williams
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    KP Williams Contributing Member

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    Personally, I detest approaches like that. It takes away from the intensity of the threat like nothing else I can imagine. Character's speak the way they speak, and if you don't like the way your character communicates, then why would you make him like that? (I'm saying "you" in general, not personally to the person I'm responding to.)

    That said, I don't like exclamations in the narrative, especially in third person. First person, you can get away with it, since it's really a character constantly speaking/thinking. Inside quotes, exclamations don't bother me; outside, I prefer to keep it to a minimum.
     
  5. Unit7
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    Unit7 Contributing Member Contributor

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    In that case I don't see anything wrong with it. In fact it adds more to the dialouge imo anyways. When I see the exclimation mark I have a good idea of what it should sound like before I read the narration. It just adds more to it.

    Now I don't think they should be over used. During an argument a few of them sorta sets it up and is no longer needed.

    This is more or less just my impression and opinion. Maybe there is a more 'official' explination as to the use or lack of use of it. (uh did that make any sense? lol)
     
  6. Kas
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    Kas Contributing Member

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    I don't think they usually work well in the narrative. But as for dialogue, exclamation marks exist primarily to eliminate tags. So, if you're already using a tag like, "he screamed," the exclamation would be somewhat redundant/overkill. Sometimes, an exclamation mark can help speed up an intense scene where you don't want to use a tag. Other times, (often) you don't need the tag or exclamation, because it's obvious from the context and both would be redundant.

    You should always try to eliminate redundancy, IMO, so that means using relatively few exclamation marks.
     
  7. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    I'm not against using exclamation marks in dialogue or anything of that sort. I was merely suggesting an alternative to using exclamation marks over and over again. If it's used sparingly, then I have no complaints.
     
  8. Phantasmal Reality
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    Phantasmal Reality Contributing Member

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    If you reserve explanation points for shouting and other heated moments where they're justified, you should naturally end up using them sparingly. Besides, I'd much rather have:

    "I'm going to kill you!" the man raged and pointed the gun at us.

    than:

    "I'm going to kill you," the man raged and pointed the gun at us.

    Even with the "action verb", the version without the exclamation point just feels flat. However, you can give it an entirely different feeling by changing the tag.

    "I'm going to kill you," the man narrowed his eyes and pointed the gun at us.

    Long story short: use exclamation points when they're needed. No one can blame you for that, and if they try, just narrow your eyes and point the gun at them. XD
     
  9. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Use exclamation marks very sparingly. Most of the time, you are better off indicating shouting or intensity by context and reactions, rather than by exclamation marks.

    When you do use one in a rare appearance, it will have far more impact than if they are scattered all through the text.
     
  10. architectus
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    architectus Banned

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    Remember that you don't want to annoy the editor, and I guess they get irritated when they see a lot of !!!!!!

    He pounded his fist on the desk and wrinkled his face in anger, revealing his cigarette-stained teeth. "Get out."

    The feeling is the same with or without the exclamation mark, IMO.
     
  11. Kas
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    Kas Contributing Member

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    Actually, you conveyed the feeling so well with words, Arch, an exclamation mark would only cheapen it, IMO. It sounds more serious and threatening without.

    On that note, I think I'd be more inclined to use the exclamation mark with immature characters. As it stands, I'm not sure I have any EMs anywhere in my novels, so far.
     
  12. Atari
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    Atari Active Member

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    There is an extremely distinct difference between saying something and yelling it.

    I don't see the man in your piece yelling at all, I see him grunting it, trying to keep from yelling.
    It works for THAT.
    But if he WERE screaming or yelling, then an exclamation mark would work much better.
    Furthermore, a period set against a tag describing a yell is an odd contrast and counter-intuitive.

    She screamed at me, "I hate you, John."

    Even if you read the " I hate you" as a scream, the period just throws the entire thing off.


    Now, I agree that one should use exclamation points sparingly, especially since even heated arguments rarely EVER get to the extent of needing an exclamation point.

    Imagine that you have not seen an exclamation point for an entire book, and then a character interrupts another character, saying,

    "Shut up!"

    BAM! The power is astounding. (Or would be)


    Anyway, I believe that AVOIDING something can be as bad as overdoing it.
     
  13. Phantasmal Reality
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    Phantasmal Reality Contributing Member

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    First of all, using multiple exclamation points is going to get you panned no matter what the context. One is enough.

    Secondly, the "feeling being the same" is subjective and is probably going to vary from editor to editor. I think the lack of an exclamation point completely changes the tone of the example you gave. I see him growling "Get out", not shouting it. If that was your intention, good, but if you wanted him to sound more forceful, I think the exclamation point needs to be there.

    Lastly, do what's best for your scene and story. Don't suck up to editors. Everyone likes to run around saying that adverbs and exclamation points are evil and that you should only use them sparingly (i.e. next to never) and then cleanse yourself afterwards. It's ridiculous! (Uh oh, exclamation point.) Too much of anything is going to detract from your story, whether it be adverbs or adjectives or punctuation or poor sentence flow. As long as your style isn't drawing attention away from what you're writing about, you're fine. Let the editors nitpick about the details if they want. It's not like you have to impress all of them--just the one who gets your book published. ;)
     
  14. apathykills
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    apathykills Contributing Member

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    I think in dialogue exclamation marks need to be used sparingly or they will lose all their impact.

    There are many different ways to counter this, for instance i noticed when i read a book that if a couple is described to have started shouting i will continue to think they are shouting until told otherwise or until the nature of the words they are using changes, (Perhaps I just like Newton's first law?) am I the only one on the site the does this?

    I do think there are exceptions to this rule. One of them being terry prachets Lords and Ladies where he uses ?! in one characters dialogue to show her voice constantly rises at the end of each line.

    Another terry prachet rule is that any character using more the 3 exclamation marks is immediately insane.
     
  15. architectus
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    architectus Banned

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    It wouldn't matter to me if the reader saw him yelling, screaming, grunting, or growling, "Get out."

    They get a visual image that the man doesn't want the other person in the office. That's all that matters. In fact, I don't want to force an image in the reader's mind. I want the reader to create his own world. My words only help him be a creator.

    If the exclamation mark forces every reader to see the man yelling, then I am not allowing my reader to create.

    This is just how I do things, however.
     
  16. Kas
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    Kas Contributing Member

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    My thoughts exactly, Arch.
     
  17. Phantasmal Reality
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    Phantasmal Reality Contributing Member

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    And that's fine, if that particular character isn't important. If he is important, however, it matters. There's a difference between someone who shouts at people to get out of his office and someone who growls it under his breath. Maybe your readers already know him by that point and can predict exactly what he would do in that situation, but if they don't, it could lead to two vastly-different impressions of that character. That's something you should want to avoid.

    It sounds romantic to say, "I want the reader to create his own world," but you are the creator. It's smart writing to let your readers' imaginations fill in minor details, but it's your job to force images into their heads, otherwise you can't tell them your story. I'm not buying your book because I want you to help me create my own world; I'm buying it because I want you to take me into the world you've created and show me why I should care about it, what I can learn from it, and how it relates to the real world that you and I both live in. Show me something I couldn't have imagined on my own. Show me something that changes my perceptions. If you can't or refuse to do that, I might as well write the story myself, since the most you could have at that point that I don't is a greater proficiency with words and more free time.

    I'm sure you were specifically referring to the dialogue example when you said you like to let the reader "create his own world", so please don't take the above rant the wrong way. I just disagree with the application of that philosophy to writing in a broader sense and wanted to say something about it. :-D
     
  18. Kas
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    Kas Contributing Member

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    There's a lot to be said for allowing your readers creative freedom.

    Consider the seductive character. There is simply no way you could create a character whom everyone would find appealing. We all have different tastes. The only way to accomplish this for all readers, or at least the majority, is to deliberately leave the character open to interpretation within certain parameters, such as his/her basic appearance and general manner. (And most readers will ignore you in regards to appearance, anyway.)

    Rule number one for any performer: remember that your audience bought your ticket/book/whatever to have a good time. They want to be entertained. Your job is to enable them. It seems to go double for writers.

    If readers have the option, they will generate a character far more appealing than you could ever hope to.

    This is a very basic technique, employed by the vast majority of published novelists, amateur and pro alike. Those who don't master it don't often get far. It does not only apply to those minor details that would be tedious to write and read. It is essential to writing a story for a wide range of people to enjoy. The more you limit your reader, the more you limit your potential audience.

    It is your job as a writer to realise both your own limitations and the incredible potential of a reader's imagination. Use their imagination to your advantage.

    Sorry for the lecture, but this is something I know for a fact. I've seen it in virtually every story I've enjoyed over the years. I notice it especially when I compare observations with my sister, who is also an avid reader and has read nearly all the same books I have. We often have different impressions of characters, or even what the author was trying to say by x, y, or z, or whether he meant anything by it in the first place. When we have a major disagreement, the discussion gets interesting.

    Those conversations have helped me to see just how clever my favourite authors are. They didn't lock us in a creative cell and force us to watch a series of slideshows. They gave both of us the freedom to create. . . and it's the only way for both of us to enjoy all the same books, because we are very different people with very different interests. Had I been forced to see things my sister's way, I might not have enjoyed it so much, and vice versa.

    Don't lock your reader in a cell.;)
     

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