Not so this week. This post is all about contractions.
They seem to come up a lot when talking with fiction writers. For some reason I've never been able to track, many writers are under the impression that one should never use contractions when penning fiction.
I can't think of much that makes dialogue sound more stilted than someone who doesn't use contractions, unless it's Data from Star Trek: The Next Generation, in which case it sounds perfectly normal. Granted, there might be a good reason for it (like Data's programming limitations). A book I edited years ago featured a mage who never used contractions, and that trait set off his dialogue nicely, making his voice easy to identify. Or perhaps a character who doesn't use contractions is someone who is royalty, or more formal in their speech because of a class distinction. That's fine. Perfectly fine. More than fine.
What isn't fine is when someone tries to tell you that NO ONE can use contractions when writing. Scientific writing has a tradition of not using contractions, but this blog post by Stephen Heard discusses why even that is an irritation for him personally. He states that the use of contractions in scientific text is seen as "unprofessional or unscientific" but then points out that the reader's perception of that is circular in its logic: "we avoid contractions in scientific writing because they sound informal, but they sound informal to us only because we're used to avoiding them in scientific writing!"
Somehow, newer writers have taken the traditions of scientific writing and morphed them into some sort of unbreakable
First of all, most people use contractions when they speak. (See my Editor's Notes post about dialogue sounding real.) And if a good work of fiction is supposed to reach people by feeling "real," what better way to give authenticity than by mimicking real-life speech patterns?
On The Write Practice, Joe Bunting discusses the fact that English teachers tell their students that contractions should never be used in writing, but he personally suggests it "only so you don't ruin your grade." His practical advice: ". . . if you're writing anything remotely creative, and especially if you're writing dialogue, you need to be using contractions. Real people use them and so should you."
Heck, even The Chicago Manual of Style says, "Most types of writing benefit from the use of contractions. If used thoughtfully, contractions in prose sound natural and relaxed and make reading more enjoyable." (5.105) If CMOS says it, you know I'm all in.
Contractions are not a modern gimmick. They've been around for centuries. Even Beowulf had contractions in it.
The important thing to remember is that the "no contractions" thing is NOT a rule. Fight anyone who tries to tell you it is. Sound natural. Sound relaxed. Make the reading more enjoyable, and live to write creatively!