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» Hatrack River Writers Workshop » Forums » Open Discussions About Writing » Contractions

   
Author Topic: Contractions
jkhodgepodge
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I was reading a back issue of Writer's Digest and saw that contractions were acceptable and encouraged in novels. I began looking through various types of novels and found that around 3/4 of them used contractions (outside of dialogue).

Is the use of contractions acceptable to editors? I have been very careful to be grammatically correct, knowing a poorly written manuscript would probably be tossed in the garbage. I don't want it to be tossed because I am not familiar with 'new' rules regarding grammar.

Or is the use of contractions up to the author's discretion so long as the usage remains consistent?

Thanks!
Jen


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extrinsic
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The use of contractions is acceptable in creative prose so long as usage is consistent and in character for the characters or narrator using them. In more formal scholarly writing, contractions are not acceptable. However, it might be worthy of note that the practice of English as second language speakers not using contractions could be trite, a la Star Trek television screenplays. Personally, I'd look to other methods of dialect for distinguishing foreign English speakers in addition to no contractions.
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Christine
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In fiction you can get away with a lot if you create a consistent and clear voice. The limited third person POV, a popular and relatively recent perspective in fiction writing, gets us inside the heads of characters who may be thinking in contractions.

I used to be very anti-contraction outside of dialog but I've loosened up recently. I now use contractions when I slip into a deeper penetration. I do not use contractions when I'm being more distant from the characters.

The real key, IMO, is to keep is consistent. Don't randomly throw in contractions in an otherwise contraction-free manuscript.


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tchernabyelo
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There's nothing wrong in using contractions, so long as you've thought about why you're doing it.

There is also nothing wrong in NOT using contractions, so long as you have thought aboout why you are NOT doing it.

All a matter of taste and the voice you want to convey.


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Robert Nowall
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I suppose it depends on your narrative voice. If someone is telling the story, I guess it'd be okay---certainly it would be if it's a first person thing. If it's a disembodied auctorial narrator, I'd say, probably no.

(I saw a writeup once, on Star Trek: The Next Generation, that listed all the times Lt. Data used contractions after making a big deal in the first episode of how he couldn't do it. (Or would that be "could not do it"?) No relevance...this discussion just reminded me of that little tidbit.)


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Robert Nowall
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quote:
Personally, I'd look to other methods of dialect for distinguishing foreign English speakers in addition to no contractions.

I've always thought odd choice of word order is a good way. Not that I can manage it myself, just that I think it's a good way to do it.


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jkhodgepodge
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Thanks, I only mentioned it because I had gone back to look at a few books I'd read and found that I hadn't noticed the use of contractions while reading it.

The article I read mentioned using contractions as a means to help the flow. I also noticed while reading a novel without contractions that the flow was sometimes held up by the use of cannot, could not, would not etc.

Established authors can take great liberty in their writing. I have noticed Stephen King is often grammatically incorrect. As a new author I guess I will stick with the no contractions so they'll be able to see how gud i rite


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KayTi
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I have never given my use or lack of use of contractions in stories a second thought.

I don't know if that helps you - but it doesn't seem to be hurting me. I just write the way it sounds in my head, and I do not use much dialect, if any. For example - last two sentences I used doesn't because that fit, and do not because that fit.

<shrug> My personal opinion is that you should write in a way that is most natural and comfortable for you, spelling and major grammatical rules/conventions notwithstanding.

I was reading something recently that talked about how some writers today are workshopping and rewriting their work to death, removing all sense of voice from the piece. I don't know if that gives you justification to just write the way you write best, but I'll use it as justification for myself.

Good luck!


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TaleSpinner
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"As a new author I guess I will stick with the no contractions so they'll be able to see how gud i rite"

I think editors are looking for a good story and that their sense of good writing is about whether it's easy to read, not conformance with a set of formal rules that lead to stiff writing that's unattractive.

Good luck,
Pat

[This message has been edited by TaleSpinner (edited September 16, 2008).]


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jkhodgepodge
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I have taken the approach with this novel to not include wouldbe contractions where ever I can. I write something like 'The weighted door refused to move." Instead of saying he could not open the door or the weighted door would not move.

You can over do things, or in this case under do, but overall I think being conscious of the contractions and finding more descriptive ways to write has helped me.

Mostly I was afraid rules had changed as they so often do with language, grammar and even spelling sometimes. I wanted to keep up not so much with trends but demands from publishers, editors, agents and the general public Besides, I'd really hate to get it back from an agent or publisher requesting I redo the whole thing and put contractions in UGH.


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djvdakota
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PLEASE use contraction in dialogue and in deep penetration POV.

Otherwise they com across as stiff, forced, unnatural, a dread to read.

I don't care about in narrative, but it's true that it's really all about flow, rhythm, voice, style. Any prose should feel natural and easy.


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jdt
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In my WIP I have a couple of sets of characters, one from the upper crust and one set from the provinces. I don't use contractions in deep POV or dialogue with the former. I do with the latter. It's even something that my critique group noticed when I missed one.
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