You’ve heard of writing prompts, now we have revision prompts! Each prompt will give you a specific writing issue to check for in your WIP, along with tips on how to fix each. Going through this process one issue at a time will not only help polish your current novel but will also teach you specific ways to improve your writing for your next story.
COUNT: Find out how many exclamation points are in your story by doing a find and replace (Press control and “f” at the same time. Insert “!” at the cursor to search for exclamation points. Click on the “replace” tab, right above the box you just typed in. In the box that pops up under the “find” box, enter “!” again. In the line of buttons along the bottom of the find box, click on “replace all.”) This will replace every exclamation point with another exclamation point and count every time it does this, which will tell you how many you have in your story.
EXAMINE: Chances are that the number of times you’ve used the exclamation point will surprise you. Often we use it in writing–especially in dialogue–at places we wouldn’t if speaking, to convey a character’s strong emotion. Therefore, every use needs to be evaluated.
(Note: If you find any instances of multiple exclamation points, take out all but one. If you find any exclamation points with a question mark, choose which is stronger, the question or the emotion, and keep only the ending mark that goes with the stronger one. If you find multiple sentences close together which all have exclamation points, choose the one with the most emotion, and keep the exclamation point there only.)
FIX: Do another search for the exclamation point, but this time click on the “find next” button along the bottom of the find box. Read the sentence that ends with the exclamation point, and emphasize the emotion. (you may need to read the previous sentence as well to get the context)
Does it sound natural? Would a person really put enough emotion into that sentence to require an exclamation point? Try reading it without the exclamation point. Is it really needed? If you think it is needed, try showing the emotion through the character’s body language, tone of voice, or action, then re-read the sentence without the exclamation point. Does the emotion still come across? After examining each use, click again on the “find next” button to advance to the next use, and take out as many exclamation points as possible.
( Note: Some words already express a strong emotion–especially when used alone–like “idiot” or “monster,” so adding an exclamation point is repetitious.)
You jerk! / You jerk. (Because of the emotion implied in the word “jerk,” these sentences read almost the same.)
I couldn’t believe my eyes! / I couldn’t believe my eyes. (Emotion flows with this type of sentence, so much so, that if a character says it without emotion, the author would need to state that the voice was deadpan or emotionless.)
“Look over there! It’s the giraffes.”
The little girl tapped her mother’s arm repeatedly, then pointed through the fence. “Look over there. It’s the giraffes.” (The addition of the action shows the little girl’s excitement, so readers know to read her words with excitement.)
“Yes! They won the relay race!” / “Yes! They won the relay race.” (More excitement falls on the “yes” when spoken, and the exclamation point there will carry the emotion into the following sentence.)
He made a fist in the air and cocked his arm back. “Yes. They won the relay race.” (Another option is to show the excitement with an action instead of the exclamation points.)
She hung up on him?! / She hung up on him? (Both questioning and surprise are indicated, but since a sentence only needs one ending mark, and the question implies surprise, the question mark is the better choice.)
One of the keys to publication is a willingness to learn. We hope our Revising Prompts will help you learn more about the craft of writing and speed you on your way to publication.