May 31 2009

Common Writing Mistakes: Unstylish Punctuation

1.  Please don’t use multiple exclamation points or question marks. It’s far less likely to suggest that the character is really surprised than that the author is really inexperienced.  It’s cheesy.

  • REJECTION:  “I hate you, Martha!!!!”
  • REJECTION: “How could you do that to me??”

2. I recommend against giving the narrator exclamation points. “John turned around.  Then a ninja burst through the ceiling!”

3. Smiley faces are generally a poor choice in professional communication. If your novel manuscript, query or proposal use any kind of emoticon, I’m guessing (X_X).

4. Please use exclamation points sparingly. Strings of exclamations are generally disorientating and hard to process. “I’m surly! You’re not listening to me! That is unacceptable! I’m getting even surlier!”   If you use exclamations too often, they will become diluted and lose their zing.

5. Please be REALLY careful about capitalizing sentences for emphasis. “AND NOW YOU DIE, MR. BOND!”  I wouldn’t even consider doing it more than once or twice per novel.  And even that might be unnecessarily risky.

13 responses so far

13 Responses to “Common Writing Mistakes: Unstylish Punctuation”

  1. Ragged Boyon 31 May 2009 at 2:00 pm

    What are you talking about???

    I use this stuff all the time!!!

    What are you trying to say. 😉

  2. Marissaon 31 May 2009 at 2:35 pm

    Rofl xD so lyk I can’t type mah novel lyk dis??? :DDD

    Okay wow, that actually burned to type. Hahah!

  3. Trollitradeon 31 May 2009 at 3:24 pm

    Are you sure that third one is “acceptable”? ^_^;; I’ve never seen this [!?!] used in a real book before. Maybe [!?], but doubling that exclamation mark looks just as bad as doing [!!!] or [??].
    As for using the exclamation points more sparingly, that’s something I’ll work on to improve. ^_^

  4. Holliequon 31 May 2009 at 3:25 pm

    I normally write 1-Acceptable ?! rather than !? – it just feels better for some reason.

  5. B. Macon 31 May 2009 at 4:17 pm

    Hmm. I changed it to !?

  6. Beccaon 31 May 2009 at 9:13 pm

    I think ?! is somewhat more correct than !? since what the person is exclaiming is first and foremost a question.

  7. The ReTARDISed Whovianon 01 Jun 2009 at 12:27 am

    I always use ?! instead of !? because it feels better. I don’t know why!!! 😉

  8. BananaSlugon 01 Jun 2009 at 5:00 am

    “3. SMILEY FACES ARE NOT ACCEPTABLE IN PROFESSIONAL WORK. If your manuscript, query or proposal use any kind of emoticon, your submission is definitely (X_X).”

    My very first fan fic was guilty of this. Actually, it was my second, but I don’t talk about my first….

  9. scribblaron 01 Jun 2009 at 5:12 pm

    I never use !? or ?! because punctuation should not be doubled; it’s just wrong. I do occasionally use triple punctuation, though. Like this…

  10. Ragged Boyon 01 Jun 2009 at 5:54 pm

    “I never use !? or ?! because punctuation should not be doubled; it’s just wrong.”

    I think it’s acceptable because it’s an actual emotion, it’s surprise. I like !? more than ?!. When I see ?! it makes me think the person is asking a question then showing emotion, when realistically, you’d show the emotion while saying it. It’s a matter of opinion, though.

  11. B. Macon 01 Jun 2009 at 6:26 pm

    Hello, Scribblar. I think that !? and ?! are generally accepted as a way to express a combination of shock and disbelief. Also, they can be very useful.

    For example, let’s say that we have this situation…

    SUPERVILLAIN: There’s just one thing left, before I destroy humanity.
    AGENT BLACK: What?

    SUPERVILLAIN: There’s just one thing left, before I destroy humanity.
    AGENT BLACK: What!?

    The punctuations successfully convey a different meaning. In the first example, Agent Black is trying to find out what the last thing left is. In the second, it’s pretty clear that Black is registering his surprise that the villain plans to destroy humanity.

    Version 2.
    SUPERVILLAIN: There’s just one thing left, before I turn everyone into sentient turnips… A world of turnipeople.
    AGENT BLACK: What?

    SUPERVILLAIN: There’s just one thing left, before I turn everyone into sentient turnips… A world of turnipeople.
    AGENT BLACK: What!?

    In version 2, “what!?” is a reasonably clear way to suggest that Black is shocked by the stupidity of the villain’s plot (or his attempted portmanteau, turnipeople).

  12. Luna Jamniaon 01 Jun 2009 at 6:53 pm

    LOL Marissa thts lyk so cr8zy …

    *shudder* it feels so wrong to type like that, I don’t understand how ANYONE could. How can they live with themselves?

    I use “!?” sometimes, NEVER multiple exclamation points or question marks, though. And never smileys. Why would someone put a smiley? I cannot even comprehend it.

  13. B. Macon 01 Jun 2009 at 7:34 pm

    I think smileys are ok in casual settings. I occasionally use them to soften up reviews that would otherwise be too harsh.

    Version 1: Your protagonist is totally obnoxious and unlikable.
    Version 2: I’m having likability issues with the protagonist. I want to wring his neck. 🙂

    However, they can make a bad first impression, especially if they’re overused. If your synopsis is riddled with smileys, people probably aren’t going to take you very seriously.

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