No, I haven’t written that sentence. Not exactly. I would never, ever, EVER use more than one exclamation mark in a row. But apparently I filled my manuscript with over 200 exclamation marks, almost all of them in dialogue, and most of those in the mouth of one rather excited character.
I would have sworn I’d done no such thing, in fact, when my editor pointed it out to me, I figured she must be exaggerating or had miscounted or maybe she had my manuscript mixed up with some other, more excited, writer.
No. She’d thoughtfully highlighted each one, and as I read through the second round of edits on TEMPTATION I paused at each red highlighted !. It’s taking me days and days just to read through the 240 pages, there are so many red highlights.
I’ve removed about 90% of them, but that still leaves a lot. Some I’ll remove later, when I read through a clean copy, but some need to stay. A short phrase such as “What luxury!” needs an exclamation point to convey that sense of awe the character is feeling as she examines the object. Otherwise it sounds as if it’s a sarcastic comment: “What luxury.” You can almost see a “she sneered” as a dialogue tag there, can’t you?
Here’s what the Chicago Manual of Style has to say about the use of the exclamation point:
An exclamation point (which should be used sparingly to be effective) marks an outcry or an emphatic or ironic comment.
The problem with using exclamation points is that most of the time, the dialogue itself should convey the character’s emotion. Not always—they’re sometimes needed to allow the reader to exclaim right along with the character. But a character who is always running in fifth gear, on high-octane dialogue, is tiresome. No one talks like that all the time.
Except, apparently, a few of my characters. At least they did—now they’re revving at a slower speed, with a little help from the delete key and some Xanax.