Quick Tips to Improve Your Writing (#1 – Punctuation Abuse)

Are you ready to read the first tip in our Tips to Improve Your Writing Series? I hope so. But first, you should understand something.

I’m a picky reader. In other words, I’m a book snob. I sometimes put down books after the first page. Why? Above all else, I can’t stand poor writing. For years, I’ve paid critical attention to writing techniques that either keep me reading or force me to pick up a different book.

Below, you’ll find the first of many tips from my research that can take your writing to a whole new level and keep your readers turning the pages. Check back for more tips or sign up for our newsletter and we’ll remind you.

Tip #1 to Improve your Writing: Use Exclamation Points with Caution

Tip #1 to Improve your Writing: Use Exclamation Points with Caution

Exclamation points are like salt–both should be used sparingly and only to add necessary flavor. Overuse of either makes your creations unpalatable.

How can you make sure you’re not abusing the exclamation point? Try to write without using a single exclamation point.

Does that sound hard? With practice, it’s not. Start by infusing your descriptions and dialogue with emotion. Then throw in action.

Here’s a bad example.

The storm kept me awake all night! I looked like a zombie! I trudged down the stairs to breakfast, but it was all gone! My sister ate all of the cereal on my wedding day!

Fictitious Exclamation Point Abuser

I’ve honestly read comparable work from many beta readers. I often give them a heads-up that I can’t stomach any more exclamation marks and offer to read again when they’ve eliminated ninety-nine percent. The writing always improves. Here’s an example of how using the previous model:

Morning light tugged at my swollen eyelids. Stupid storm. Couldn’t it have chosen a day other than my wedding to keep me up all night?

My body ached from tossing and turning as I stumbled down the stairs like a zombie needing a juicy brain. I picked up the empty box of Cocoa-Crispers and Valista shrugged with milky-brown goo oozing out the corners of her lips.

“Thanks, sis. I’ll remember to return the favor when it’s your big day.”

Fictitious Non-Abuser of Exclamation Points

You might say that I embellished the second example. Yes, I did. Why? Because I didn’t use exclamation points as a crutch. When I tell a story, I want my well-crafted words to carry the meanings and emotions, not take cheap shortcuts. I have to dig deeper, but the results are much better.

Repeat after me: Exclamation points are cheap shortcuts and my writing will improve when I reduce them.

Tip #1 to Improve your Writing: Use Exclamation Points with Caution

As a funny side note, there’s a well-known children’s book author that got carried away with exclamation points. In a story meant to lull children to sweet dreams, the use of exaggerated punctuation has the opposite effect. Instead of using a sweet, quiet voice, my husband and I yell the story. Hilarity ensues.

So thank you unnamed author for inadvertently providing us with humor.

And if you want me and other readers/agents/publishers to stomach your work, watch the exclamation points.

Check back soon for Tip # 2 in our Series: Tips to Improve Your Writing – When to Use Adverbs. Or better yet, sign up for our newsletter and we’ll remind you.

You might also want to check out our article on How to Start a Book so Readers will Turn the Page.

How to start a book so readers will turn the page

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