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Saturday, October 4, 2008

All-Caps, Exclamation Points and Feeding the Writer's Soul

This blog is not only about editing but a about a little of the other things we writers experience when we're in the process. So be patient. I'll get to CAPS and a little on exclamation point, too! (-:

My husband and I just returned from an amazing Transatlantic cruise that--once across the grand pond of water--stopped in New York and Fort Lauderdale. It was a long cruise and we elected to get off the ship in New York and fly home immediately.

When we got to New York we pulled into the port in Brooklyn. Across from us was Battery Park and that incomparable skyline (the best of any in the world!). New York was dressed in her best, that rare September morning look. Crisp air. Blue sky. Cool breeze off the East River. The smell of ocean salt. The tinny sounds of a city awaking. NEW YORK, NEW YORK!!! Ahhh.

But our plane left at 11:30 so we had to take a taxi to La Guardia airport. I have always added a day to business trips. I might use that day to visit the Dayton Art Museum after working the Erma Bombeck Writers' Workshop or spend it exploring Nashville's quaint downtown after the Southern Book Fair. So I know that it works. I guess I just needed a reminder. So New York dressed itself in it's Chanel best so I wouldn't forget again.

Now, I promised you something on editing. During the at sea days on the Atlantic, I did some editing and was reminded that I want to remind you about using caps for emphasis. You know, like the caps I just used for NEW YORK! NEW YORK.

Try not to do it. What you can get away with on the Web is different from what people come to expect in a book. Besides, it's the lazy writer's way to yell or emphasize something. You can do better. Your dialogue can say it's yelling by the word selection. You character can show she is yelling when you give her certain body language. Whomever she is talking to can indicate she is yelling by his reaction to her in either his dialogue or his body language. There are all kinds of ways to achieve what you're after without resorting to caps.

I'm not saying, never-ever-ever use all caps to achieve something in your writing. I'm just saying, try to do without them. Give your writing skills a workout first. That way you grow as a writer and you'll also be confident that you didn't use all caps because you didn't know of another way (yes, I think about any other way is better!) to achieve the affect.

And about NEW YORK, NEW YORK! I could have used lots of exclamation points but they're just as bad. I wasn't writing dialogue so I couldn't use my dialogue skills. Sometimes--rarely--over-using formatting just seems the only way to let exuberance loose. But there still is a better way. I could have just expressed my enthusiasm. I could have said something like, "I just adore New York! Always have. Always will!"

Here's to New York! Here's to learning hard-won lessons! With a little luck, I won't ever again forget that one day at the Met may be worth more than a day returning e-mail. And then there's that thing about how easy it is to lapse back into the all-caps habit.

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Carolyn Howard-Johnson edits, consults and speaks on issues of publishing. Find her The Frugal Editor: Put Your Best Book Forward to Avoid Humiliation and Ensure Success at Learn more about her other authors' aids at She blogs on all things publishing (not just editing!) at


Prill Boyle said...

I LOVE New York!! (Ha!) I was just in the city yesterday with my mom. Sometime when you're out here again, I hope you'll look me up. Yup, that's an open invitation.

In any event, welcome back.

BTW, I couldn't agree more with your assertions about exclamation points and full caps. Not only do they hint at laziness; they're distracting to the reader.

Allyn Evans said...

Enjoyed this post. Loved your book! I used your book when writing my book proposal. It's being sent out now. I'll keep you posted on how it goes.

And New York...

I'm heading that way in two weeks. Can't wait.

Beth Blair said...

Your post makes me want to hop on a plane and head to New York. I love the city this time of year.

I have to say, excessive exclamation points drive me bonkers. I don't know what it is, something about that little line and dot ending sentence after sentence - it's like nails on a chalkboard.

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