Benjamin Dreyer writes in The Washington Post that it's time to toss out the exclamation point. I know what he means!
I just sent an email to a friend about his recent visit to my house and found myself stuck with too many exclamation points. Every period felt like dropping my voice at the end of the sentence, suggesting that the visit hadn't really been great, that I wasn't really excited, that really, I could have done without him stopping by.
This is what happens when we abuse the language and punctuation!
Another friend, as a kid, used to read the comic strip Gil Thorp, almost every panel of which contained an exclamation point or two. He used to read it aloud as it was punctuated so that Gil was Trying Out For The Sport Team! or Going To Ask Her To Go Steady! He shouted each line with a forced smile. Sometimes we would talk like Gil Thorp: Let's Have Steak-Ums For Lunch! or I Have To Take A Dump!
My students tell me that the exclamation point is unavoidable in texts. Without them the reader thinks that the writer doesn't care. It's like that episode of Seinfeld when Elaine's boyfriend doesn't add an exclamation point after the announcement of a baby. That was the end of that relationship. My students feel the same way!
An exclamation point on my old typewriter requires typing a period, backspacing, and typing an apostrophe. There's no exclamation point key (it would be above the 1 which is made by typing a lowercase L instead) so it's a pain to type exclamation points. Typewriter manufacturers knew enough about good writing (and were stingy enough about adding keys) that they influenced writers to stick with the period.
Elmore Leonard's fifth rule of writing is "Keep your exclamation points under control. You are allowed no more than two or three per 100,000 words of prose." As soon as you learn to write as well as Elmore Leonard, feel free to flout his rules.
Dreyer in The Post says that exclamation points are "just so tempting when you feel the need to turn up the volume on a workaday thought" but that the usage of them has "mushroomed till they've become the standing ovation of punctuation: an obligatory, performative demonstration of enthusiasm meant to reassure" readers that everything is Great! The Best Ever! But, "If everything's exciting, ultimately nothing is."
I tell college students that they are allowed one exclamation point per paper. I've thought about confining them to one per semester, but that seems unnecessarily draconian. I mean really! Dreyer has suggested "that writers confine themselves, over the course of a full-length book, to, at most, a dozen exclamation points." A writer replied, "Over the course of an entire career, you mean."
I'm unlikely to meet that goal, but, as Gil Thorp might say, it's worth a try!