From surprise to happiness, from anger to violence, from anguish to tragedy, the exclamation mark punctuates a variety of human expression. When a character in your fiction says “Stop!”, your reader hears the shout; while “Stop.” conveys there is a calm authority behind the order. A command to “Jump” may not achieve it’s purpose; “Jump!” may actually propel one to do so.
Sadly, this unique and extraordinary power of the exclamation mark has greatly diminished in contemporary writing. The elusive semicolon lies at one end of the spectrum, the abused exclamation marks the other end. Like a cancer in our modern language, it seems to multiply forever. A single mark no longer conveys the level of excitement or shock as it once used to, it now needs several multiples of itself to create the magic.
There is an oddity about these multiples that I have never understood: they occur as a group of either 3 or 5 or more, rarely 2 or 4. I hope in vain that someday, the single exclamation mark will get even with those who so abuse it.
Now we even encounter cases where the number of marks used outnumber the letters it was intended to punctuate, as in “OMG!!!!!!!”, thus becoming more disruptive than even the parenthesis.
Jewelry can embellish, but not make a woman beautiful; garnishing can enhance flavor, not create it. Embellishment can diminish the original idea. The exclamation mark can punctuate content, not substitute it. Alas, like an alcoholic who is never satisfied with just one drink, popular language is rarely satiated with just one exclamation mark. The exclamation mark is the new opiate of the masses.