One can ensure better writing by following this simple rule of thumb when it comes to using exclamation points in one's work:

Never use more exclamation points per month than you have thumbs.

Unless you're some sort of mutant, this rule should serve you in good stead. And if you are some sort of mutant, hell, the rules shouldn't apply to you anyway.

What if you write for comic books? And what do you do if your medium is "WARNING!" signs?

I am a writer by trade, and I have to say I generally find rules of thumb unhelpful. Sure, the exclamation point is something that is perhaps best used sparingly, but if your writing calls for one then, hell, stick one right in there! Damn the consequences!!

(PS: I have only two thumbs, with which I will now spell "nvnvnvnvnvnvn.")

The exclamation point is often the horror and mystery writer's greatest enemy.

99.9% of the time, it belongs in dialog and only in dialog. Whenever I encounter an exclamation point used outside of dialog, I am suddenly pulled from the spell of the story (assuming that it was cast in the first place) and made painfully aware of the writer’s intent. It’s the writer telling me, the reader, that this! Is! Supposed! To! Be! Exciting! Or! Shocking! Or! Revelatory!

It automatically tells me that the writer doesn’t trust my intelligence and instincts as a reader enough to let me figure out for myself that something is supposed to shock or stun or scare me.

Consider the following examples, all of them lifted from recent horror stories I’ve read:

He realized that he hadn’t locked the door behind him!
And now they were going to kill her!
They weren’t alone in the house!
You couldn’t believe how loud your wife screamed when you opened your eyes!
He was lost!

You get the idea. To say it’s melodramatic would be to succumb to gross understatement. The use of the exclamation point outside of dialog is, to my mind, a lazy cop-out all too frequently embraced by horror/thriller writers (and we’ve all done it, myself included). Think I’m overstating my point? Then try this simple exercise: Pick any of the above-quoted lines, and when you reach the exclamation point, imagine that it is the first four notes of the Dragnet theme. Go ahead, I’ll wait.

They weren’t alone in the house-Dum-Da-Dum-Dum.

Makes its use seem absurd, doesn’t it?

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