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I tend to write my stories in an informal style, mostly using the third person omniscient viewpoint. I have a question about contractions. I try to be a bit more formal in my writing, I try to use good grammar and I think sometimes it comes across as a bit pretentious. When I write in first person, I make it more conversational, so I have no problem writing "Can't," "Won't'" or "Didn't." However in third person, I am a bit uneasy. I tend to write, even in third person, in a somewhat formal conversational style, but I catch myself writing in contractions. Spelling out "will not:" or "did not" seems a bit pretentious, especially when I read it back to myself out loud. Of course, I feel no restrictions using contractions in dialogue, however how do you handle this in other situations? I don't want to seem pretentious and I know what a strict English teacher grammarian would say, but in the real world, what do you people do or think? If I were writing for the New Yorker (yeah, right) I would know not to. But, for the kind of stories I write in third person, what are your thoughts? It just seems a bit off putting to write out "Did not..." rather than "Didn't."

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I think it depends on the context. There are some situations, some storylines if you will, where contractions are quite appropriate, and some where you'd ruin the mood and atmosphere you were endeavoring to create.

The langauage we use helps create the ambience. So, use or don't use contractions accordingly.

My opinon. I imagine there are a lot more out there.


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I think it depends on the circumstance. Also, it depends a lot on the voice of the character speaking: a grandmother would probably not speak using contractions, whereas her grandson well might. As Cole says so well, 'The langauage we use helps create the ambience. So, use or don't use contractions accordingly.'

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Your concerns are valid, but don't change horses in the middle of a stream. If you find contractions adequate in the dialogue you write then continue it throughout.

The rules of grammar we have discussed time and again always seem to come to the same conclusion, do what you think best. All those hard and fast rules you learned in school are imprinted in your mind and will often prompt you to question a choice of words. But contractions are situational due to their placement in a sentence, and we know dialogue varies from speaker to speaker.

"I do not agree with you" does sound stilted and formal after your character has cried out "don't touch that" only moments before. But it does fit if your character is trying to be emphatic, probably because it reads slower. "I don't agree with you" works equally well and allows the sentence to flow. Personal choice, I don't think there is a rule covering this. Our writing has become a mirror to our speech, and since humans are characterized by lazy speech this it is to be expected.

I just finished a book where the author deemed it proper to say "probly" instead of "probably." I understand, my own IM speech goes with "prolly" all the time which allows me to communicate and be abbreviated at the same time. I fear that this young generation of texting individuals will devolve the language even further. If that happens I would suggest any of us who post on AD will look like a bunch of frickin sages. :smile:

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This question comes up a lot in various forms, so I'll try to address it fully. If you're short on time or attention span ;) then I'd suggest even so, take the time to read it. I'll try not to be too stuffy.

There's a difference. You will hear a couple of rules in English class. You'll always hear the first one:

If you're writing a non-fiction piece, such as an essay or article or newspaper report or a thesis, then yes, it ought to be in standard business textbook English, just like you were taught in school.

If you're lucky, in class, you'll also hear: Other writing, fiction, for instance, can and usually should be more informal, with a more conversational style. But in the classroom, before college/university level, you might hear only the rule about standard textbook English, either because the students don't know the difference, or because the teacher doesn't want to tackle teaching the difference.

But the basic two rules that cover even both those cases, are:

* Who is your intended audience?

* What is the intended style of your piece?

In some cases, an informal article shouldn't be written in strict textbook English because the style or the audience require something else for an effective message. If you're going to write for a leisure magazine, for instance, or Rolling Stone or Seventeen or the latest teen mag or fan magazine, then you want to use an approach that your audience will listen to. (Case in point, that's why I didn't say, "to which they will listen.")

If you wrote a short article on, say, teen pregnancy or using a condom and other hygiene and birth control to prevent the risk of getting an STD, yes, including for gay teens, then you'd write the way teens talk, unless those teens are Vulcans. ;) It's the same if you were writing something for rock fans, motorcycle fans, and so on. If you write for manga and anime fans, they have their own lingo. A primarily gay audience...may have a certain vocabulary too...but that might not reach the questioning or straight folks who are reading.

But you asked about fiction. Fiction is a beast of another color: The whole crayon box got turned over and melted. And then they threw some watercolors and glitter on top.

In fiction, the audience expects the narrative or exposition style and the dialogue style to fit the story. The story is king. The characters are kings. Unless they're not kings. Um, yes, problem carrying through on the metaphor, there. ;) No, seriously, your dialogue should absolutely fit your characters. Your exposition / narrative are likely to be a little more formal or standard. However, that too should fit your story. If your story is being narrated by a poor man who never finished high school and lives out in the country (or inner city or...) then he is not likely to speak in textbook English. If your story is from the 19th century, they wrote differently, in narrative and dialogue. If it's from ten thousand years in the future and the Spice must flow, they use another style still. If your story deals with poor urban youth, something fits that. If it's about the average family next door, then they probably use contractions and a few non-standard ways of speaking, but mostly, they use standard English in exposition, whatever they sound like in conversation.

Or, to put it more succinctly, go read Mark Twain. Or Of Mice and Men. Or A Tale of Two Cities. Or Dune. Or watch Star Trek. Or an actual NASA mission.

Huck and Tom and Jim don't sound nothin' like no schoolmarm from one o' them uppity cities back East. Nossuh, they talk like plain folks. If'n Huck spied him a coon, why he'd sic that ol' hound dog on 'im right quick.

It is important to declare, define, allocate, initialize, and dereference dynamic memory properly when using pointers. One must also pay particular attention when managing, collecting, and deallocating blocks of memory addressed by pointers, and setting the pointers to null, in order to perform garbage collection, avoid underflow and overflow conditions, and prevent memory leaks and errors from occurring.

I made up both of those off the cuff. The style of the second is not really good, but it is thick with buzzwords and dense, which is true of any such textbook.

My whole point? Story. Character. Style. Audience. -- You should know the textbook rules, so that you know when and how best to bend or break the rules when you do so, for the greatest impact.

Gene Roddenberry got all kinds of flak for writing that famous, "to boldly go where no man has gone before" line, and splitting that infinitive. He wasn't the first person ever to split an infinitive. Shakespeare, or earlier. But these days, you will find very few textbooks or so-called experts who will quibble too much about a split infinitive, and I've seen that Star Trek example cited as an example of why it is effective, strong style.

I was (still am) pretty careful about English usage. But you wouldn't have caught me avoiding contractions in speech, or in informal writing, unless I was trying to imitate a Vulcan. (Hey, I'm a fan, don't look like that.)

What I'm saying is: Story. Character. Style. Audience. Those are what matter in fiction. Break the rules when you need to. Know how and why, so if someone complains, you can defend your reasons, and because it will help you know how to bend or break the rules to do what you want. But yes, fiction needs to have everything bring out the desired effect, just like music or cooking or acting. (Acting and fiction are both about pretending and imagining and sharing the make-believe with an audience.)

Don't beat yourself up if you prefer a more formal style. But don't be afraid to use an informal style, when it suits what you're trying to do.

N.B. -- There are a few cases where I argued some style or grammar point or other with a writer or two, and I now think I had my head screwed on wrong. Thankfully, in most of those, the writer knew better and said so. In other cases, I wish some writers had followed my advice instead. ;) My point in mentioning it is, there's an art to bending or breaking the rules. The story and characters are king. The style needs to suit them. The style must reach and move the audience. Anything I or any editor or a teacher says is just hot air, if it doesn't meet those needs.

Feel better? Go forth and use a contraction, I dare you! Have a character say ain't. I promise you'll live. :wink:

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I just finished a book where the author deemed it proper to say "probly" instead of "probably." I understand, my own IM speech goes with "prolly" all the time which allows me to communicate and be abbreviated at the same time. I fear that this young generation of texting individuals will devolve the language even further. If that happens I would suggest any of us who post on AD will look like a bunch of frickin sages. :smile:

I'm still reading that same book, and the 'probly' sticks in my craw every time I see it. Is nothing sacred!

But he can easily get away with it, and I can't really complain, because it is in first person, and that first person can do whatever he friggin' pleases. It's his story.

But probly? Really!

Anyway, if he can have his way with us, you can contract anything under the sun and get away with it. Even in third person. It's your story, as well.


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Sages...yeah, right on, Dude.

To contract or not to contract, involves how we have been taught to regard grammar in the written form, as well as how aware we are of the way language is used.

It might be appropriate for a mother to yell, "Don't touch that!" to a child about to touch a hotplate on the stove; whereas James Bond might tell Goldfinger, "Do not touch that button."

Context is important as well as the character's persona. Grammar is important but so too is the idiom of the story, the characters and their language.

It's also influenced by the dramatic moment in the story. A formal presentation of the theory of the Higgs-Boson might not be the place for a contraction, but in a story rather than a thesis, using a contraction when describing the Higgs-Boson, might well be valid.

And it is worth remembering that Shakespeare had no problems contracting words purely for reasons of poetic rhythm. It is here, (It's here), that we can see clearly that what was germane to one time period in language, a word like 'wished' would have been pronounced 'wish-ed', but the Bard wrote 'wish'd' because the rhythm demanded the contracted form.

This is, more or less, what happens with youth's text speech for words like probably becoming 'probly' or 'prolly', even though I agree with Chris that a lot of this kind of thing is due to laziness. But then again, it should be pointed out that accents themselves are traceable to lazy speech and a reluctance to open one's mouth in a way that permits full flourishing formation of the correct pronunciation.

In that case contraction in dialogue is even more justifiable, but if it is over done it becomes tedious to read if it is purely to convey an ethnicity.

Remember too, that breaking an accent deliberately in a character so that he suddenly speaks more formally can be a wonderful dramatic or comedic device in a story. The rule is to convey the ambience, the psychology, and the personalities of the story, the characters, and the author's own 'voice', any or all of which may mean creating your own rules, provided you maintain the communication of your intentions, to the reader.

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I wrote the above reply whilst Blue and Cole were posting their comments. It is amazing to me that we all have similar remarks. (Even if our accents are very different.)

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I've pretty much figured out how to handle contractions in dialog, (or is it dialogue? Oh, well, I'm American, but I'm also pretentious. Hmm...). Its the narration. If I were writing in first person, I would consider the background of the narrator. However, since I'm writing in Third Person, as God or Me, (or both), I am trying to figure out what would be best for the audience, which will consist of the highly literate and sophisticated members of that august body of writers known as the Awesome Dudes AND the morlocks and sans coullotes at Nifty. (As I said, I'm pretentious). Just kidding. :icon_geek: I'm just trying to judge the audience and whether it would be off-putting to make it sound more formal by not using contractions or more comfortable for the reader with contractions. I think, since I feel more comfortable WITH the contractions, that's the route I will take, rather than the one less traveled. Although, I still try to avoid ending sentences with prepositions, knowing that is something up with which fewer and fewer people will put.

I noticed that my Chrome spellchecker wanted me to change "Morlocks" above to "bollocks." Perhaps, since I was referring to Nifty, that might have been more appropriate? BTW, I am not insulting Nifty readers and I'm an avid Nifty reader myself! I was just being my usual "ass" or "arse" and being self-deprecating. :icon_geek:

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Morlocks to bollocks? OMG, that is hilarious!

I use a lot of contractionns in my stories. I speak and think in contractions, they seem natural to me. In a story I'm careful not to pick a contraction that might be misunderstood or where the person speaking is someone the reader wouldn't expect to use contractions (a university English professor, for example). But when I write about teens I use contractions.

I wrote a short story, A Brass Monkey, that deals with the use of contractions.

Colin :icon_geek:

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I just read "A Brass Monkey" and it's wonderful! Hilarious. And, apropos to the discussion, (particularly the bollocks)! I will happily use contractions now!

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I seen the thread title and thought of someone giving birth. "How far apart are the contractions?"

Literate and sophisticated, sure. I can spell my name but I also build 4x4's. Those probably cancel each other out.

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Lugz, you BUILD a 4x4? Did you know that you can go down to the lumber yard and buy them and they'll eve cut them to length for you.

Colin :icon_geek:

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Morlock's bollocks? Can't take you people anywhere, can I? :rolleyes:

That sounds like something the iOS spellchecker would do.

At least we know the Chrome spellchecker *likes* bollocks! This is good, eh? :rofl:

So much for me trying to be literate and erudite and sophisticated. August? It's July!


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Some good comments above. Me personally, I'd say it depends on the story's point of view. If it's 3rd-person omniscient, then my take is that the unseen narrator is most likely more intelligent and more knowledgeable than the characters, and might well speak in a more formal way. Whether or not to use contractions would be circumstantial, but my own style leans more towards being more conversational and to use the contractions except for extreme emphasis. Otherwise, there's a risk of coming across as being too stilted and obvious.

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Your concerns are valid, but don't change horses in the middle of a stream. If you find contractions adequate in the dialogue you write then continue it throughout.

I fear that this young generation of texting individuals will devolve the language even further. If that happens I would suggest any of us who post on AD will look like a bunch of frickin sages. :smile:

Yep, today a new friend of mine in Zimbabwe said all you guys were "intellectuals and sages of high merit"... so clean up your act, ok?!

I for one have to think hard about writing contactions. It's very difficult for me. And I have never texted, not once!

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