Thursday, June 16, 2011

Intentionally hiding tools in your toolbox.

Interesting bit of "advice" I heard the other day:

A stylistic thing: I was just at the Backspace Conference, where in the opening pages agent-author seminar, the agents stopped reading a participant's opener as soon as they hit an exclamation point, and stressed that shows lazy writing. There must be some other way to show the emphasis, or else don't emphasize the point where it is used. 

I have to admit, I'm always a little skeptical about those sorts of arbitrary rules that one hears, like the exclamation point thing. That one, in particular, strikes me as especially arbitrary. Exclamation points show lazy writing? Incorrect usage of exclamation points can certainly be problematic, but to exclude their usage altogether? Absurd. I'll say again with emphasis: Absurd! (Especially considering one of the events at that conference was titled, "The Power of Positive Writing!” Yes, with the exclamation point.)

But more to the point, there are only three punctuation marks that can end a sentence.  Why avoid one-third of them completely?  How is that lazy writing?  I don't know.  It's a fundamental part of punctuation.  The advice, as a reading rule itself, I find almost obscene.  It's a step away from saying, "If I see a sentence with two words that start with a 'k', I stop reading." I shudder to think of fledgling writers running to their manuscripts and slashing out exclamation points. Because THEY! MUST! GO!

I'm so glad my agent doesn't follow such a silly rule.*


*- The first sentence of Thorn of Dentonhill is "Thief!"


A. Lockwood said...

I agree. Exclamation points aren't *always* bad. Adverbs aren't *always* bad. They may be overused, but I don't think that means we should get rid of them altogether.

Rebecca Schwarz said...

Nice post. The exclamation point is strong medicine, but the point is to know how to use punctuation and to use it to greatest effect!