I won’t deny it. I dislike exclamation points, a distaste that I blame upon Dr. Allen Weir—the man who first helped me learn that fiction needs to breathe. His point was valid, and I’ve been anti-exclamation point ever since. It is a bit of in irrational irritation perhaps, but there is a reason for my bias.
First, consider what the exclamation point represents fundamentally. It means, basically, that the sentence that precedes it should have been in an excited tone. Spanish is much better at signaling this (the exclamation point comes—¡upside down!—before the sentence), but in English the reader doesn’t know to get excited until after the sentence is over. This is annoying and draws the reader out of the world you’ve created.
More than this, though, exclamation points violate the show-don’t-tell rule. Basically, if you use an exclamation point, you are telling the reader to be hyped up. Your job as a writer is to hype the reader up with what you’re saying, not to let that funny straight-and-dotted thing at the end of the sentence do your job for you. Let the character’s actions or the amazing pronouncement do the hyping.
To show you what I mean by all this, imagine throwing in that end mark on some random sentences:
“Yes, you can use my stapler!”
Somewhere, there’s a man swimming with only one flipper!
The rate of depreciation is directly invariable to the time that the equipment is (a) used in the office and/or (b) stored!
Obviously, these are extreme cases (absurd, some might say), but the exclamation point adds nothing. Some context, however, makes all the difference.
Glenda finally sighed, rolled her eyes, and slammed the stapler down. “Yes, you can use my stapler.”
We suddenly realized in horror that someone went into the intergalactic goo unprepared. Somewhere, there’s a man swimming with only one flipper.
The crazed accountant laughed hysterically and pulled at his hair. His eyes were wide as he spoke. “The rate of depreciation is directly invariable to the time that the equipment is (a) used in the office and/or (b) stored.” He ran off trying to hold in his laughs and snorting.
As I hope you see, the exclamation point wasn’t what showed excitement. It was the situation itself. So, come join the writers and editors holding out against the exhibition of exclamation points (WE HATE EPs) movement with me.
Okay, it’s your turn. I do want to hear defenses of the old e. point if you’ve got them.