Don’t Use Exclamation Points in Your Writing!!!

This post was inspired by the book, Nabokov’s Favorite Word Is Mauve, by Ben Blatt. This book applies numbers and statistics to some of the age-old adages about writing that we have all been told numerous times. Last week, I posted on the topic of adverb usage.

Exclamation points are the bane of some writers. In his bookย 10 Rules of Writing, Elmore Leonard states his rule of thumb on exclamation points. “You are allowed no more then two or three per 100,000 words of prose.”

So, just like with Stephen King and his adverb ratio, Blatt sets out to see if Leonard and other renowned writers subscribe to this rule. He starts by analyzing Leonard’s 45 novels which total 3.4 million words. His rule would have resulted in the use of 102 exclamation points in his writing over his career. His actual number was 1,651 which is 16 times what his rule states.

Still, when you look at his writing compared to other respected authors, he is at the top of non-usage of this pesky punctuation mark. Leonard came in at a rate of .05% per 100,000 words. The chart below, taken from Blatt’s book, illustrates where these authors fall in the exclamation point rankings.


Elmore Leonard ranks first in frugal usage of exclamation points per 100,000 words.

On a side note, the Washington Post did an article on the current U.S. President’s punctuation usage during his vigorous Twitter activity. It seems that his rate of exclamation point usage is 2.03%. This is nearly double the rate of James Joyce who averaged about 1.1% exclamation point usage over three novels.

I aggregated three of my own novels and used the ‘Find’ option in word to search for exclamation points. I found that, per 100,000 words, I average about 7.7 exclamation points. I’m well below Leonard’s actual results even though I’m over his recommended guideline.

How about you? Do you use too many exclamation points? Do you agree with this guideline?



61 thoughts on “Don’t Use Exclamation Points in Your Writing!!!

  1. If the sentence/scene calls for it, I use an exclamation point. If it doesn’t, I don’t. Sometimes I think we get too hung up on all the rules. I do, however, find these charts fascinating. Thanks for sharing, Don!!! ๐Ÿ˜‰

    Liked by 5 people

  2. I don’t have ANY exclamation points in ANY of my books. Now, I’m sure you noticed that I didn’t say, “I don’t USE…” because that wouldn’t be the truth! Every ms I send to my editor comes back stripped! Drat…
    Thanks for the wonderful article and First Place chuckle about James Joyce. LOL

    Liked by 3 people

  3. Reblogged this on MUFFY WILSON and commented:
    I donโ€™t have ANY exclamation points in ANY of my books. Now, Iโ€™m sure you noticed that I didnโ€™t say, โ€œI donโ€™t USEโ€ฆโ€ because that wouldnโ€™t be the truth! Every ms I send to my editor comes back stripped! Dratโ€ฆ

    Do you?

    Liked by 2 people

  4. This is a great post Don!!! And I certainly agree with this Guideline!!! Exclamation points!!!! Tsk!!!! Would you credit it?????!!!!!
    All joking aside, your post got me thinking. I wonder if there might be a correlation between the type of prose, the intended audience, the period it was written, and an author’s in house style with the number of exclamation points.
    Take King and Joyce for instance. I think it fair to say that while Joyce is definitely a literary author, King is firmly popularist. For a popular mass market paperback author exclamation points are certainly a good way of banging your point home easily. (And that certainly sounds a lot snootier than intended.) Perhaps King also wanted to keep the successful in-house style he felt his readers expected.
    Joyce probably used a lot because how he was writing; using colloquialisms and direct speech to produce a sense of intimacy and urgency, like he is shoving his readers’ faces deep into the scene and holding them underwater, as it were, until they gasp. Maybe because of how he was writing, he choose a style that in some ways mimicked popular mass market paperback authors of his day- like detective novels.
    In truth I suppose we’ll never know.

    Liked by 3 people

  5. I use quite a lot, but mainly in conversation – and emails. I suspect I would not enjoy Elmore Leonard’s books, partly because he has too little worth exclaiming about.
    I don’t like faux statistics like this, but if someone wants to take an extreme view, and someone else wants to cite James Joyce as the opposite end of acceptable, then I’d take the median and aim for that. That would bring a target somewhere between Dan Brown and D H Lawrence, without doing the math.
    Either that, or choose someone whose style you enjoy, and consider how that person uses exclamation marks!

    Liked by 3 people

    • I agree with your thoughts on this. My fascination was with seeing how an author that utters a rule like this lives up to their own edict. I did the same with a quote on adverbs from Stephen King last week. This post has generated a good deal of great conversation.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Pingback: Gender in Writing Style | Author Don Massenzio

  7. Pingback: Writer, Heal Thyself! | Author Don Massenzio

  8. I notice there are some great writers at the wrong end of the exclamation chart: Wharton, Dickens and Conrad. And some great modern writers as well: Orwell, Tolkien, Rowling. Whether you use certain punctuation marks depends on the story you’re telling, and how your characters deliver the story. In A Man Called Ove and Britt-Marie Was Here, Backman uses exclamation points and he breaks other rules, which give these books immediacy and vigor. I am trying to relax about the rules. An exclamation point, though, can also create false urgency!

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Pingback: Simplicity in Writing | Author Don Massenzio

  10. Pingback: U.K. vs. U.S. Writing Style and Word Usage | Author Don Massenzio

  11. Pingback: Avoiding Cliches – The Name of the Game or Making a Mountain out of a Mole Hill? | Author Don Massenzio

  12. Pingback: Book Covers – Does Size Matter? | Author Don Massenzio

  13. Pingback: Book Length in a Series – Does it matter? | Author Don Massenzio

  14. Pingback: Beginnings – How do famous writers stack up? | Author Don Massenzio

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s