Oct 23 2008

A few notes on punctuation use in novels

Published by at 7:28 am under Punctuation,Writing Articles

There is never any reason for a novelist to use more than one exclamation mark or question mark at a time.

No matter how excited your characters are, they can’t end their sentences with a string of exclamation marks (“Thanks!!!”)  No matter how quizzical they are, they can’t use more than one question mark, either.  “Really, B. Mac???”  Really.  It looks amateurish, whether you’re writing dialogue, narration, titles, blurbs or synopses.

Trios of periods (ellipses) are more acceptable.  For example, if you want to make someone sound like he’s trailing off in conversation, an ellipsis is probably an appropriate way to end his sentence.  (“Yeah, about that…”) However, ellipses are harder to use in narration.  A narrator that trails off will probably raise pacing issues.

Also, please try to avoid using too many exclamation marks. If most of the sentences in a paragraph end with an exclamation, it will probably feel cheesy and distracting. As a rule of thumb, a ten sentence passage shouldn’t have more than three exclamations.

3 responses so far

3 Responses to “A few notes on punctuation use in novels”

  1. t3knomanseron 23 Oct 2008 at 7:57 am

    The interrobang may be acceptable (?!) but must be used sparingly. Bonus points if you actually use a real interrobang character (available in some character encodings). Under no circumstances should you use the giant butt mark: Ѡ

    //That’d be the Cryllic Omega, but it’s also a giant butt.

  2. t3knomanseron 23 Oct 2008 at 8:00 am

    Also! Don’t you think that three exclamations across ten sentences is still a bit generous!? I think three exclamation points per story are sufficient! I generally avoid them like the plague in the first draft, and insert them as needed in the second!

  3. B. Macon 23 Oct 2008 at 8:44 am

    3 is probably too many, but it’s a plausible limit for newer novelists that are weaning themselves off of exclamations. It’s doable and not altogether painful.

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