Copyediting with Keli: Excited about Exclamation Points!

I’m excited to be talking about exclamation points!


I make generous use of them in emails and blog comments, especially when a friend has received good news. I had to learn that they’re to be used sparingly in my stories, though.

Someone likened exclamation points to cayenne pepper. A little can add zing to a pot of chili, but too much can spoil the batch.

What helps me is to remember that an exclamation point is generally used to punctuate an exclamation, which—according to my trusty dictionary—is “a sudden cry or remark, especially expressing surprise, anger, or pain.”

I try to remember that everything in a sentence of dialogue preceded by an exclamation point is being shouted.

Here are some examples of exclamations where an exclamation point is warranted . . .

A frazzled mother reprimanding a toddler pulling the dog’s tail for the umpteenth time: “Stop that this minute!”

An obstinate two-year old refusing to do what his mother wants: “No!”

A woman who just stuck a needle in her finger: “Ow!”

Me when I opened the email saying my Dream Agent wanted to discuss the possibility of representation: “Oh my gosh!”

When I judge unpublished contest entries, I often see an abundance of exclamation points. This can be a tip-off that the work is from a newer writer.

By limiting the number of exclamation points in my stories, I can show the emotion through the words I use rather than relying on exclamation points to tell the reader how surprised a character is.

When we use exclamation points sparingly and only for short, shouted exclamations we can avoid making our writing too spicy.

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When it comes to exclamation points, do your pour them in your stories or sprinkle?

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To see all my Copyediting with Keli videos, visit Keli Gwyn’s YouTube channel.


About Keli Gwyn

I'm an award-winning author of inspirational historical romance smitten with the Victorian Era. I'm currently writing for Harlequin's Love Inspired Historical line of wholesome, faith-filled romances. My debut novel, A Bride Opens Shop in El Dorado, California, was released July 1, 2012. I'm represented by Rachelle Gardner of Book & Such Literary. I live in a Gold Rush-era town at the foot of the majestic Sierras. My favorite places to visit are my fictional worlds, other Gold Country towns and historical museums. When I'm not writing I enjoy taking walks, working out at Curves™ and reading.
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13 Responses to Copyediting with Keli: Excited about Exclamation Points!

  1. Gillian says:

    Great post! (Ha, there’s my first one.) It’s so much more tempting with some characters than others. When they bellow and bluster about, I really want to !!! all over the place, which forces me to show more action and reaction. Usually on a first draft I’ll throw them in just because I’ll know that’s where I have to go back and make it better. 🙂

  2. Great stuff! I especially liked your reaction to Rachelle’s email. Exclamation points tend to bother me when I read them in fiction. I like them used very sparingly. But like you, I use them a lot in emails!

  3. Oooh, Keli, when I was a beginner, I have to admit–I was a bit over the top with them. I’ve learned a bit since then, and I try to use them rather sparingly now (unless in emails or blog comments!) 🙂

    Likening exclamation points to shouting is a great point (no pun intended.)

  4. Wendy says:

    I hardly ever use them in my work. If I have it has been in dialogue.
    So fun to watch these.
    ~ Wendy

  5. Like you, Keli, I use them a lot in blogs, comments, and emails, but hardly at all in my other writing. It’s far better to use descriptive words to describe someone’s emotions/actions than exclamation points. As an editor, I almost always remove them, especially from more academic writing.

  6. Cindy R. Wilson says:

    Just like you, I use them in emails and a ton in comments on blogs. I use them sparingly in my work and not even for all my exclamations. I’m sure I’ve had that pointed out in the past about my writing so I’ve learned 😉

  7. Erica Vetsch says:

    Eek, Memories. My early manuscripts have more !!! than a hound dog has fleas. And though I’m careful about using them now in my mss, I adore using them in blog posts, emails, and comments! 😀

  8. I am loving this series, Keli. I do the following … put the exclamation point into word “find” … then go to “replace” and put the period symbol. I found over 75 of those little guys in my first WIP …

    I have decided the only time I use them is in emails, blog comments (not even much in my own blog posts) and that is all. If the sentence can live without it, I let it live a long and happy life ending with a dignified “period,” … period 🙂

  9. Marji Laine says:

    I had to pull over 250 exclamation points out of my first novel. Was proud when I carved the number down to 30. Then I eliminated all of them and added back one. At least that was one of my easier revisions! (And I use LOTS of them and capitals, too, in my emails!) 🙂

  10. Great advice, Keli! I remember reading on Rachelle’s blog a long time ago about how she doesn’t like to see exclamation points. I pretty much eliminate them all, but there may be one or two that insist on remaining sometimes. 🙂

  11. bethkvogt says:

    Suggestion about exclamation points: Go ahead and use them all you want in your first draft. Then, go through and edit most of them out when you rewrite, rewrite, rewrite.

  12. jeanniecampbell says:

    avid user informally. pretty much only use them in dialogue in manuscripts. every once in a while, one will slip in there, though. love having sarah and katie as a crit partners, b/c they are both pretty rigorous about not using them and they’ll find them.

  13. So funny, Keli. I love using exclamation points when leaving blog comments and sending emails. But I have learned to get rid of them in my novel writing. Great points!!

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