02 03 Melody Jackson, Author: Can You Overuse Punctuation? 04 05 15 16 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 31 32 33

Can You Overuse Punctuation?

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Oh my gosh! I'm so excited! Can't you see I'm excited?!! Yay!!!

If I wrote my stories with that sort of punctuation, you would understand why some writers are wary of 'too much punctuation'. Simply because it's too casual and unnecessary, I never use more than one punctuation mark after a sentence (i.e, no !? or !! or ??) But it's become a big thing I've discussed lately that punctuation marks such an exclamation points and ellipses should be used sparingly.

Okay, so anything used in excess isn't the best, as seen above. But I've seen writers take it to the extreme as well, grinning proudly as they say they only have three exclamation points in their entire 100k story.

...Really? Only three exclamation points? Is everything spoken in monotone or asked except for those three sentences?

However, I struggle with an overuse of italics, so I understand why someone might go to such an extreme when they overuse something too much. (Haha) But just because you struggle with it doesn't mean you have to limit yourself to only three per story. (Seriously, don't do that unless there are truly only three instances you need ! for)

The secret is simple. Ready for it?

Just double check. 

Yep, that's it. That's all I do. Especially if I start noticing an abundance of italics (like when my characters start getting very passionate, haha), I simply go through and un-italicize them all, one by one, and examine if it truly needs to be there. For example, in a section of writing I recently reread and consequently winced at:

“You shut up right now, Blaze Montego! Oh yeah, you think you’re all cool and tough, playing your pathetic little insult games to make yourself look better, but I’ve had it.” I paused only to catch my breath, letting him have the full force of my anger. “Of all the days, of all the days you could choose to antagonize me again, you did not pick the right day. I am not in a very happy mood right now. You want to fight? You want me to prove that I’m tough? That I’m not a prissy little stuck-up girl? Fine. Fine!

Let's count the italics, shall we? Oh dear...one, two...NINE (I'm a terrible counter ;)  italicized words in one small paragraph. Oops. Well, let's see if we can fix this, eh? Now, the thing with this paragraph is though not all the italics need to go, most of them do. So let's see which ones truly need the emphasis, and which ones are just too much. 

“You shut up right now, Blaze Montego! Oh yeah, you think you’re all cool and tough, playing your pathetic little insult games to make yourself look better, but I’ve had it.” I paused only to catch my breath, letting him have the full force of my anger. “Of all the days, of all the days you could choose to antagonize me again, you did not pick the right day. I am not in a very happy mood right now. You want to fight? You want me to prove that I’m tough? That I’m not a prissy little stuck-up girl? Fine. Fine!


Now all the italics are gone. Where is the previous emphasis lacking now, where it feels too flat? To me, the first three italics were not truly needed, but the fourth really needs it, because otherwise it just sounds...flat. "I've had it." And yes, maybe I could add in an ! instead, but it still wouldn't give the right emphasis, that intense frustration of 'I've had it with you!' So, we'll add that one back in. Doing good so far!
Now, the sixth one, I would add the italics as well because otherwise it just sounds repetitive. The next three are a bit trickier though, because though some should be kept, not all need to be, and deciding is not black and white. However, since there's already italicized all in that sentence, I think leaving the italics off 'not' is good. The second 'not' could or could not be italicized, and though I have a tendency to add it in, it's a trickier call. So you know what I do with those? I make a choice and set the writing aside for a little while, coming back to it later to see if I even miss those italics. If I don't, then they probably weren't needed. ;)

So, you can use this same method with any other form of complained-about punctuation: if your characters are too happy! And they always shout! Yay! Or if they're...always...slow...and...hmm...can't figure out just...what to say, or if they're just running with their sentences on and on and on, just stringing on more phrases, not caring that the sentence is now a paragraph length all on its own, and that's all they ever do is use these, without any sort of break to catch your breath...!

WHEW! Whatever your struggle is, try this method to keep it from overrunning your story. :) And who knows, in time you may find yourself normalizing the use of your punctuation in your stories again. I might not put as much emphasis on everything, lol. Maybe. ;)

I'd love to hear your thoughts on the matter! Do you have a certain type of punctuation you frequently overuse, and if so, what do you do about it? Do you have any tips of your own?



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