This morning I cracked open a new book. A few paragraphs in the author used an exclamation point. I was surprised
Elmore Leonard has a rule about exclamation points: “You are allowed no more than two or three per 100,000 words of prose.” I like Mark Twain, who said, “One should never use exclamation points in writing. It is like laughing at your own joke.”
I have read shelves and shelves of mystery novels, many of which never use an exclamation point. Instead the author relies on well-crafted dialog and exposition to convey the emphasis indicated by an exclamation point. By the time the reader gets to the critical passage, they are caught up in the action. The anticipation, anxiousness and tension is already there.
These last few paragraphs of the first chapter of A Walk Among the Tombstones by Lawrence Block are packed with suspense. The words speak for themselves:
… Kenan flung the lid open.
No one in there. Just packages, bundles of some sort. Bundles in various sizes wrapped in black plastic and secured with freezer tape.
“No,” Kenan said.
He stood there, saying “No, no, no.” After a moment Peter took one of the parcels from the trunk, got a jack-knife from his pocket, and cut away the tape. He unwound the length of black plastic—it was not unlike the Hefty bags in which the money had been delivered—and drew out a human foot, severed a couple of inches above the ankle. Three toenails showed circles of red polish. The other two toes were missing.
Kenan put his head back and howled like a dog.
No exclamation points, and this is Block at his best.
See ya’ later.