As the only dude reading submissions for Theme of Absence, I see a lot of “rules” of writing that should never be broken. (Yes, I understand that rules are meant to be broken, but that comes in a more general sense, and you need to understand why exactly the unofficial rules of writing exist before you break them.)
Anyhow, after that running sentence, I thought it would be fun to share the number one rule of good writing I see broken (ignored?) at Theme of Absence:
The Exclamation mark!
Now I’m all for breaking the rules. If it makes sense for you’re story to start with a dream sequence, then go ahead and do it (as long as you do it well.) But overuse of the exclamation mark can never be overlooked, nor forgiven. I know some writers will insist that it is necessary to include an exclamation mark in a story. And I would agree. It’s okay to include ONE exclamation mark, if absolutely necessary. But any more than that comes off amateurish, at least to me.
So here are four reasons why you should avoid using exclamation marks in fiction.
It’s a sign of weak writing.
If what you’re describing needs an exclamation mark attached to the end, then your not doing a good job describing it.
Your characters are not shouting all the time.
I’ve literally had Theme of Absence submissions where every line of dialog ended with a “!” So unless you’re writing a scene that takes placing the front lines of a war zone (or my house at bedtime) you shouldn’t have so many people screaming at each other.
It makes everything seem rushed.
I’ve seen stories where the sentences, both in prose and dialog were short (like three or four words) and ended with exclamation mark. Don’t do this. Unless you’re writing a scene where everyone is involved in some sort of secret government meth study (or at my house getting the kids ready in the morning) nothing is that rushed.
It screams “Hey, you’re reading a book!”
I personally feel that seeing that mark as part of dialogue–and definitely part of prose–is a prime example of telling instead of showing, and tells me that I’m reading a book instead of living it.
And finally, let’s remember this:
You don’t get bonus points for all caps or the dreaded double exclamation mark either. Keep those in the comics, and out of the real (fictional) world. So knock that stuff off too.
Thanks for reading and if you have any other reasons to avoid exclamation marks in fiction, leave a comment and let us know! (You’ll note that exclamation marks are perfectly acceptable in blog posts and friendly work emails 🙂 )