by Raelene Gorlinsky
The workhorse of punctuation. So common and standard that it is never noticed, unless it is missing The mainstay of sentences. But is it appreciated? Is it lauded and applauded? No! It is ignored or supplanted by flashier symbols popping up where they should not be!
I opened two mass-market-size fiction books at random and counted the sentence-ending punctuation on random pages:
19 periods, 1 question mark
21 periods, 2 question marks, 1 ellipsis
24 periods, 8 question marks, 1 exclamation point (lots of dialogue on this page)
Good, this seems about right, I didn't have any argument with the punctuation on these pages. But I wonder what that text was like when the author first submitted it, rather than this edited and published version. (Notice that this is a statement of what I am wondering, not a question - so ends in a period. However, if it were in dialogue and I wished to indicate that it was said in a interrogatory tone of voice, then ending with a question mark would be appropriate.)
Far too many authors seem to feel that the period is mundane and boring, that their writing is somehow improved by ending many hundreds of sentences with exclamation points (or multiple exclamation points!!!), ellipses, and em dashes. Yes, we editors have been known to actually count, in appalled fascination, how many exclamation points in a submission. And to wonder why authors can't read and follow the basic rules for punctuation. Or understand the proper use of sentence-ending ellipses and em dashes.
Em dash: an abrupt cut-off or interruption of a thought or spoken word.
Ellipsis: a trailing off of a comment or thought
So please, take a good look at the story you are writing at this moment. Use words, not just punctuation, to add emotion and depth to your writing. If the sentence is not exciting, ending with an exclamation point does not make it so.
Got a favorite example of misused sentence-enders in a book you've read? Or the most number of exclamation points ending a sentence? (I've seen up to five!)
And don't get me started on the proper punctuation of dialogue and dialogue tags...