Over the virtual water cooler of Facebook, my editor friends and I sometimes discuss irksome little things we frequently come across in manuscripts, and I’ve noticed one thing that comes up a lot. Writers take note: if you happen to feel like irritating editors, one of the best ways to go about it is to be overly dramatic and exaggerate in some fashion. Unsubtlety in your writing can take many forms, many of which are dead easy to pull off and have nothing to do with actual word choice.
Take punctuation, for example, which is probably the simplest tool for exaggeration at your disposal. Many writers make a habit of using more than one exclamation mark. They think that to do so automatically makes what they have to say that much more exciting!!! Why use one exclamation mark when you can use two (or even three)? Two exclamation marks will surely make what you’ve written twice as thrilling, won’t they? Well, you probably already know what my response to that is. Use just one. I really must insist. And for heaven’s sake, if you have dialogue, don’t punctuate it with an exclamation mark and then add the dialogue tag, “he exclaimed.” To do so is redundant, because we know he’s exclaiming from the exclamation mark.
But multiple exclamation marks aren’t the only type of punctuational (if I may say that) excess. To convey extreme, possibly life-threatening astonishment from which we are unlikely to recover, many writers use something popularly known as the interrobang, which looks like this: ?! You might use it in a sentence such as the following: “Seriously, can you really believe that Caroline is dissing the interrobang?!” Yes, I am dissing it, for it is not something that serious writers ought to use. It is not even a standard punctuation mark. Use it in your social networking if you feel you really must (but please don’t tell me that you did).
Another form of excess that must be avoided is too much capitalization. Have you ever noticed how some Writers attempt to give their Precious Words a sort of Earth-Shattering Significance by capitalizing them? Need I say more? The effect is generally pompous at best. Unless you’re a pompous individual and would like to advertise that fact, don’t capitalize to excess. Capitalize only those words that really need it by virtue of their being accepted proper nouns.
Similarly, don’t shout in your writing, as shouting quickly becomes wearisome to those on the receiving end (your readers). Think of an obnoxious drunk person yelling at you repeatedly and you’ll get the idea. Shouting in writing takes a couple of different forms–namely using all CAPITAL LETTERS or bold type. ANDTHESE SHOULD NEVER, EVER BE USED IN COMBINATION, ESPECIALLY WITH TOO MANY EXCLAMATION MARKS–OR INTERROBANGS!! DID YOU HEAR ME?
If you wish to emphasize something, you can do so in an understated, tasteful way by using italics. But always use them with a light hand, saving them for when you really need them. For one thing, they are more difficult to read than regular Roman text. And when you give added emphasis to too many things in your writing, not much of anything seems important after a while. As well, the reader tends to either get tired or develop a migraine, and you don’t really want to be responsible for that.
Do your readers–and editor, for that matter–an enormous favour by sparing them the above excesses. Trust me, they will thank you for your consideration.