Today the Dragon Wins

"Today the Dragon Wins" offers information from Fantasy Author and Professional Editor Sandy Lender. You'll also find dragons, wizards, sorcerers, and other fantasy elements necessary for a fabulous story, if you know where to look...

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Sandy Lender is the editor of an international trade publication and the author of the fantasy novels Choices Meant for Gods and Choices Meant for Kings, available from ArcheBooks Publishing, and the series-supporting chapbook, What Choices We Made.

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Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Writers Guide
What the Overused Exclamation Point Says About Your Writing

Even in dialogue, new writers get caught in the trap of punctuating with exclamation points too frequently. In business/formal writing, they’re the kiss of death for your career, signaling a lack of professionalism to the reader. (Never use them in a cover letter.) In journalism, reporting, or newspaper writing, again, they have little use and are usually the mark of a new or inexperienced writer trying to lend credence to his story. They could also be the sign of an absent or poor editor or proofreader who either didn’t catch them or didn’t care to save the writer’s reputation.

Harsh enough?

In all seriousness, the exclamation point should be used in moderation. A section of text with one or two (we’re talking literature now, not business or newspaper writing) is acceptable and breaks up the monotony of all the simple, declarative sentences ending with their simple, boring periods. But if you have a three-paragraph scene with four or five exclamation points visible, you’re screaming “amateur” at your reader (and that reader could be a potential agent or publisher).

Here’s the exception to the rule. If you have a character who is supposed to be melodramatic or flamboyant (eight-year-old Kaylin Taiman in Choices Meant for Gods), by all means, use serial exclamation points in his or her dialogue. Even use them in his or her description and inner monologue. It helps get the point across. But, again, I’d err on the side of caution and still use that punctuation mark in moderation. Read it aloud once you’ve written the section of text where this character’s action or description occurs and see if your words carry the day for you.

To make your sentences exclamatory without overusing the exclamation point, turn to your words. Turn to your verbs. Unpack your adjectives (and adverbs) and write short, punchy sentences to hit your reader with the quick, loud force you want. Good writers let their words carry their emotion and influence the reader. They don’t rely on gimmicks such as serial exclamation points and all-caps or boldfaced words to do it for them.

Manipulate readers with your words.

(Sandy Lender has been an editor in the magazine publishing industry for fifteen years, is an associate editor with ArcheBooks Publishing, and is the author of the fantasy novel Choices Meant for Gods, now available at
“Some days, I just want the dragon to win.”

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