Should Punctuation Show Emotion?

Is it better to use punctuation or dialogue tags? #writetip Here is a very simple example.

“Stop nagging at me!” Jane loomed over her husband and glared.

or

“Stop nagging at me,” Jane yelled. She loomed over her husband and glared.

or

“Stop nagging at me.” Jane loomed over her husband and glared.

I thought the goal was to eliminate exclamation marks. Now, I’ve been given other advice and I’m not so sure.

Any views on this one?

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8 thoughts on “Should Punctuation Show Emotion?

  1. Hi, Kristina!

    In general, I’d say use as little as you can get away with while still getting your point across; but there’s no reason to go out of your way to avoid exclamation points. In your example, without having the rest of the confrontation to go by, I’d probably do something like this:

    Jane loomed over her husband and glared at him.
    “Stop nagging at me!” she yelled.

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      1. As Jan astutely said, it’s best to mix it up. Here, warts and all, is how I handled an exchange in some of my recent writing. See what you think:

        “Hello?” The voice on the other end was heavy.

        “Pete? This is Paul. Paul Mallory,” I said. “Are you awake? I need you to pay attention to me, quickly!”

        “Who?” He sounded like a man awakening from a coma after ten years. Or ten drinks.

        “Paul Mallory,” I yelled. “Come on, man, listen to me!”

        “Hang on,” he mumbled, then a second later, more clearly, “Okay, okay. I’m with you now. What’s up, Paul?”

        I had a hunch.

        “Is Terri there with you?”

        “What? Terri who? Terri Vincent? Hell, no. What are you—”

        “Don’t screw around, Pete! Arturo’s dead, and so is Terri’s bodyguard, the one she sent to warn him. You’ve both got a great chance at being next on the list. So have I. Now, is Terri there with you or not?”

        Two interminable seconds passed. Then, “Yes.”

        “And her bodyguard? The other one?”

        “Yes, in the guest room. What is this—”

        “All three of you need to get out of there if you can, and fast! Out of the country! Boat, plane, anything. Can you do it?”

        “Boat’s possible,” he said, but he still sounded a little fuzzy. “Paul, what the hell is all this about?”

        “Where’s the [redacted] boat?” I screamed. If I wanted to let anyone know where I was, I was doing just fine. [the question is in all italics, but I didn’t know to what extent your site supported HTML. I use a LOT of italics…]

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  2. I think it depends on the context. If an exclamation mark, or any other punctuation or word, is used too frequently, it loses its impact. Just like in real life, we take more notice when a quiet person yells than when someone who yells a lot does it.

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  3. Stephen, Great scene. I can see how the punctuation helps with the emotion of the scene. I wonder if it’s an older style not to use ! and ?!. I guess I have to keep up with the times. I’ll have to practice this technique.

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  4. Many thanks for the kind words. And thank you again for the link to the Writer’s Digest freebies. I not only got six books out of the deal, but also an idea that grew into a brand new blog post yesterday. (Sent you a twitter DM to that effect, but if you’re like me, maybe you haven’t gotten around to checking those yet…)

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