I’m currently under deadline, knee-deep in revisions on one of my work-for-hire projects, so forgive me if this is a somewhat shorter than usual post. (Um yeah, stop clapping, I know you were looking forward to a long, rambling missive!)
Anyway, one of the great things about having your work professionally edited is that… well, it’s being edited by professionals. Not necessarily a process for the faint of heart. But I’ll admit I actually like it. It’s very educational to have somebody else point out where your dialogue falls flat and the plot wavers… and the times you fall back on writerly tics and crutches. You know what I mean — the eye rolls, shrugs and spine-creeping chills that fill in for actual descriptions of annoyance, apathy and fear. I’ve gotten pretty good at catching when I’m overdoing those. But now it seems I’ve come up with a new tic. Apparently, I like! Exclamation points! A lot!!!
As soon as my editors pointed this out to me, I had to cringe. Because what they were saying was true. My manuscript was riddled with those pesky things. Somehow, in my zeal to make sure readers knew what the characters were saying was REALLY! I MEAN, REALLY! IMPORTANT!!! I felt the need to throw an exclamation on every other statement. And fixing it hasn’t been as simple as changing exclamations to periods, either. Because the thing about writerly crutches… we use them when we’re lazy. Or uninspired. Or just plain out of ideas. I didn’t need to over punctuate to highlight the importance of a character’s words… I needed to make sure the words themselves conveyed that importance. Exclamations are okay — in moderation. Otherwise, they begin to feel flat. It’s the writerly equivalent of having someone yell everything they say directly in your ear. After a while, it all starts to sounds the same. Not to mention, loud.
So what are your characters guilty of? Do they shrug so much they need neck massages daily? Do their eye rolls make them look like human slot machines? Fess up in the comments below. There’s no judging here on the Mixed-Up Files.
As for me, I’m getting back to editing! Er, I mean, I’m going to rid my manuscript of all those darn exclamations. And maybe next up, I’ll do something about my burgeoning love affair with ellipses…
Jan Gangsei admits she’s a naturally exuberant sort of person. But she’ll try to save the exclamation points for things that are really important. Like cookies!