At the end of the day, it’s the crafted words on the page which give the emotion of the scene more than any other facet. Punctuation, though, has its place.
This concept for a blog came to me while reading Michael Moorcock’s Elric of Melniboné. I wanted a change of pace from reading current fantasy novels and take a trip back in time. I found 1987 to be my home and Elric to keep me company. Fantasy novels tend to have a different flair dependant on the time the work was created. The style of the writing seems to shift with every 10 to 15 years. I found enveloping myself within an older story gave me more tools to scrutinize my own work with.
Elric of Melniboné is a product of its time and with it comes different prose and dialogue. Even within the first Elric novel, it starts off with a short story from 1961 – writing has changed since then. Whether it has changed for better or worse is up to the eye of the beholder. I used a past book as the catalyst for why I’m a stickler with my exclamation mark.
I love my exclamation punctuation!
But I’m dutiful in how I spread its glory.
A certain bridging sentence caught my eye before a battle scene in Moorcock’s work. I don’t remember it verbatim, but it read similar to:
The battle ensued!
I read it, re-read, and then had a good chuckle. To me, it sounded cliché and corny. The use of an exclamation mark in the prose left me baffled. And then I noticed it more and more in Moorcock’s novel. He had exclamation marks galore in his dialogue which made the poetic high-speak of his exchanges even more theatrical than practical. The exclamations were used intermittently in his prose but stuck out each and every time for me as a reader. What did this leave me with?
I’ve come to realize the effect of exclamation marks correlates with the amount of usage and the placement.
I find exclamations in the prose to be distracting. Only times I deem them necessary if they are revolved around a protagonist’s thoughts, which I would put into the category of inner dialogue versus prose. I do love the exclamation marks in dialogue, but with moderation. An example of how I find the exclamation mark to enhance the dialogue is shown below:
“Fine,” Daz shouted. “But I’m taking my new damn pony. Going to get the full use of my coin.”
“Fine! But I’m taking my new damn pony. Going to get the full use of my coin.”
The first sentence gives off the same emotion of the second, but I find the second iteration improves the flow in this particular case. Exclamation marks imply the rise in voice without us writing those telling tags. Both above examples work and I found it to be a case by case basis for my use of exclamation marks. For instance, this one is a combination:
“Back,” Daz shouted. “Into the kitchen now!”
Now I could have done:
“Back! Into the kitchen now,” Daz shouted.
“Back! Into the kitchen now!”
All of the above examples tweak how the sentence is conveyed and how the reader reacts. The scene where the above dialogue takes place also determines how I utilize exclamations. For the most part, I delete any double occurring exclamations within two sentences. Once you have one in a set of dialogue, I find it’s redundant to place another.
When I see an exclamation point placed after a character’s dialogue that exceeds one sentence, I find myself reading the entirety in a raised tone. For this reason, if I know the character is shouting, getting excited, wants to be heard, etc, I make sure to implement an exclamation point earlier in the dialogue. Otherwise, I find it off-putting for it changes the flow:
“Such a charmer, I see you haven’t let my hospitality go to waste. Even left some for later in your beard, the thinking ahead type, I’m envious. Sparrow, close the door!” I ordered as Cleeve ran his sleeve over his mustache and beard.
The above instance feels like Rith is shouting all three of his lines of dialogue. This might not be how an author intended it, but a break needs to be inserted to differentiate the tones, either with non-verbal movements or an interjection from another character or the scene around them. In this case, I didn’t want Rith to do any of the above, but if I were, I would have done it like this:
“Such a charmer, I see you haven’t let my hospitality go to waste! Even left some for later in your beard, the thinking ahead type, I’m envious. Sparrow, close the door,” I ordered as Cleeve ran his sleeve over his mustache and beard.
The following sentences, including the tag of ‘I ordered’ are shifted by the tone set up by the insertion of the early exclamation point. A simple punctuation goes a long way to diversify the tone of a piece. This is how I currently have it, no shouts:
“Such a charmer, I see you haven’t let my hospitality go to waste. Even left some for later in your beard, the thinking ahead type, I’m envious. Sparrow, close the door,” I ordered as Cleeve ran his sleeve over his mustache and beard.
Some find exclamation points to be correlated with a character’s social status. The more exclamations the lower they are on society’s ladder. I find this to be…stagnating advice. It shoehorns characters into little boxes. I’ve seen the wealthy shout as much as the poor. I’ve witnessed bosses having reserved personalities as much as their employees. If this is true in the real world, it should be true in any fantastical world as well. Remember, one shoe never fits all.
I don’t plan to use exclamation marks in my prose, outside of internal thoughts, but maybe I will someday. Right now it doesn’t sit right with me. It’s another beauty of writing, it morphs with time and with the one who’s creating their world. Maybe in my next book, it’ll be different. For now, exclamation marks are my friend when used seldom.
Out of the 39 chapters of my novel, seven chapters don’t have an exclamation mark. Not as sparingly as I thought.
I shall get back to the editing once more, until then write on,
There are many phrases throughout our language that convey simple meaning without an overabundance of words. Honing in on singular phrases or words is paramount to rid your manuscript of redundancies. In the depths of editing, my novel is littered throughout. But, for the most part, it’s as easy as tapping the delete key to come back to clarity.
Clarity is what writers want to strive for. The problem is our minds obsession to picture exact details of scenes can hamper the exchange from author to reader. This, in turn, muddles our sentences, which muddles the writing for our readers and their enjoyment. Other words and phrases slip by the eyes without a second glance, but best get rid of those as well.
The first slough of phrases to axe is directional additions. I’ve stated before that I like directional words in dialogue, but these types need to be cut throughout your writing.
I knelt down.
Of course, the character knelt down, that’s exactly what kneeling is, but I’ve done this numerous times throughout my manuscript. Unless when your character kneels they somehow go up in some gravitational paradox, hit the delete key.
He descended down the steps.
He descended the steps.
If my character is descending, he’s going down not up, no need for the direction, the single word choice already describes the action.
He slid down to the floor.
He slid to the floor.
I found a horribly silly sentence in my manuscript that read something like:
—I descended down two levels of stairs, jerked to my left and ascended up another stretch.
It aches my heart writing the above sentence and reading it out loud is even worse. Scratch out those redundancies, it’ll go a long way.
The next example can be a controversial one. Let’s identify it before I explain why.
The bar maiden began to cry.
The bar maiden cried.
Now it can seem like, well I want to portray the initial start up of a cry. There is a stark difference between the beginning of the cry and someone in the midst of one. I see it in my mind’s eye clearly, but does stating a character began to cry add anything?
Instead make this bar maiden use some of those non-verbals, make her shoulders shudder, make her eyes squint, let wetness congeal under her green pools—all those examples portray a better image than she began to cry. If you want your readers to focus on the start of a cry, make it worth their time. Otherwise, leave it at the character cried.
Another way to cut out redundancies is with the external sounds and internal feels. This is especially needed if you’re in the first person POV, but the third person could use a glance as well.
I heard my cry, it sounded like a feral animal in a fit of rage.
My cry, it sounded like a feral animal in a fit of rage.
Or even better: My cry was a feral animal in a fit of rage.
I wrote the first example, an exuberant amount of times. It sounds normal, but when you think about it, do I need to tell the reader that my protagonist heard his own scream? The last sentence conveys all of the above with less wordage. Less is more in this case. Sometimes the structure of the sentence needs to be tweaked, but we don’t need to hear what you’re characters hear, write what it sounds like and your audience will hear it on their own without the extra aide.
The “I feel” and “I felt” ones can be distracting too. Cut them out, like the example below.
The cold would help mend the rampant rage I felt within.
The cold would help mend the rampant rage within.
If there is rage within you, you feel it, without having to acknowledge that you did so.
Give the readers sentences devoid of bloated phrases and redundancies.