Contractions In Every Day Life vs Writing

Hi there, did you miss me?

I have been busy and my schedule is what brought me here today.

I am sitting at my computer working on yet another story…for someone else. It's beginning to get old for me and I know you don't want to know about me writing for other people. However, this post is not about my ghostwriting as much as it's about the use of contractions in writing these stories as opposed to when we talk.

Some time ago a friend pointed out to me that they preferred to "spell out" everything rather than use contractions when writing their books. At the time I didn't think about it, other than it being their own choice.

Here I am, reading my work and wondering what would be better, using the contractions or not?

I decided to read the story as if I am telling it, with expression and feeling. What I discovered is that, not using contractions give the story a different sound and thus, a different meaning to those sections.

Bear with me.

When we speak casually, we use contractions to send our message. When we are upset, annoyed or angry, we tend to drop the contractions from our dialogue. We also drop the contractions when we want to place emphasis on a particular point.

"I can not do it!" is different from, "I can't do it!" 

The first has the emphasis on the word NOT, while the word can't has emphasis in the second. When you hear the two phrases, they sound completely different. The first is outright refusal to do something, while the second, sounds like the person believes they wont be able to execute because of the lack of ability.

Not every contraction split apart will have this effect. I realized that CAN'T and CAN NOT have the most negative effect on change, especially in the dialogue.

The other pair of words that have an effect on my story when split apart is DO NOT and DON'T. When I repeat the word don't, it sounds playful and light. Of course with emphasis it can be a reprimand. DO NOT, however, sounds like a command or order. 

Here's a scenario. If my husband tickles me and I want him to stop, but I'm not annoyed, I'll say, "Don't do that." If I really want him to stop but I a not angry, I'll say, "Don't", with emphasis. If I'm in a bad mood and he tries to do it I'll say, "Do not come near me." The minute he hears the two words separately he'll know I'm serious. It's like calling him by his full name as opposed to the endearment I use. He'll immediately know something is off.

I noticed that if I speak the common contractible phrases without contracting them, I sound pretentious. This is not the same for everyone. If this is your usual way of speaking then, you wont appear arty. However, for someone who normally speaks casually, I would.

The question now arise. How do you want to express your self to your readers?

For me, letting my readers know who I am is of utmost importance. I want my readers to have a close relationship to me through my writing. If I write in a way that is not who I am then I wont be able to express true self. That said, I also want them to enjoy quality work.

The secret to using contractions in your story is balance…as with anything else. Know when to use them, where in the story to use and why you are using them. If you are not sure when to use them, edit some of them out with your text editor. MS word hates contractions and will give you suggestions via the blue squiggly lines.

Now, if you have any suggestions about contraction usage in fiction writing. Please let me know via the comments.

Thanks for reading.


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