I have just been reading a historical novel which I very much enjoyed, (I'll call it Book A) but what what struck me on reading it was how many exclamation marks there were on every page! I had a look back to its publication date and found it was first published in 1993!
I have recently read another book published by the same author (I'll call it Book B), this one was published in 2005 and the exclamation marks in it are a very rare breed indeed. Barely a one.
Here is an example from Book A :
"More," she said. "No! don't go!" Her arms closed tighter."I'll be so cold! Stay with me!"
I'm fairly sure that if this passage were in Book B it would read:
"More," she said. "No. Don't go." Her arms closed tighter. "I'll be so cold. Stay with me."
So what has happened to the exclamation marks? Is it that as readers we prefer a more serious tone these days? For without them the passage certainly reads to me as more intimate and less melodramatic. Are there writers out there who have ceased to use exclamation points, and if so, why?
I have read in several creative writing books that exclamation marks are to be avoided in dialogue unless the person is actually shouting. This idea seems to have spread so that we are inclined to believe that any fiction with exclamation marks must be bad fiction.
Renni Browne in "Self-editing for Fiction Writers" says that:
"...there are the stylistic devices that make a writer look insecure, the most notable offenders being exclamation points and italics."
In Book A , the writer certainly did not look insecure, though there were at least one and sometimes as many as six exclamation marks on most pages. But it seems to me the reader is pretty adept at catching the prevailing tone of the book irrespective of the individual punctuation marks, and it was still a gripping and enjoyable read, and was reprinted again recently and was very well received. The punctation seemed a necessary part of her style.
So my question is - is the fashion for no exclamation marks just a fashion, or does it signify that we want to read a different, more serious type of literature?
I have to admit, they are rare on my pages, but then I am the product of a recent creative writing course where they nearly always got a red line through them when they did dare to appear. Perhaps it is the advent of creative writing courses, where the participants must be seen to be producing "serious" work that have endangered the exclamation point.
And by the way, I highly recommend "Self-editing for Fiction-Writers", especially for writers with no critique group to help them along.
website too, well worth a look if you want to check out the book before buying!
(Apologies, like most writers I just had a bout of insecurity!)