I say this to students a lot: “Go for contractions. They’re more natural to our ears.”
Reading is, in part, a process of hearing with our (inner) ears. We hear what we’re reading or even thinking or writing—yes, in part. So if something written is unnatural to our ears, the reading doesn’t flow.
- What would I want that I do not have now? I do not want for anything, and I do not worry about the future.
- I can not agree to what the staff can not execute.
- If you are anything like the rest of us, you are eager to get going on a lucrative project.
- He was someone she could not remember from her years of living there.
This translates to
- What would I want that I don’t have now? I don’t want for anything, and I don’t worry about the future.
- I can’t agree to what the staff can’t execute.
- If you’re anything like the rest of us, you’re eager to get going on a lucrative project.
- He was someone she couldn’t remember from her years of living there.
I suppose that taking these out of context the difference between not using a contraction and the form with a contraction isn’t so dramatic, but trust me, when you’re reading along, the lack of contractions can be very old-fashioned, formal, peculiar.
Well, the lack of contractions isn’t really old-fashioned since writers have been using contractions for literally hundreds of years.
“The play’s the thing wherein I’ll catch the conscience of the king.” Hamlet by William Shakespeare, 1601 (Note two contractions.)
Look at the language of the people in George Eliot’s writing from the mid-1800s—rife with contractions, although the language may strike us as archaic—which, yes, it is, and soft of countrified.
So in writing a novel set in the past, go ahead and use contractions.
Where else do writers fail to use contractions? Some avoid contractions in science fiction, some in ‘literary’ speech, and some to distinguish even a contemporary character (though it certainly doesn’t work).
Use contractions in all these instances as well as in general writing since contractions strike the ear as natural. When would we not use contractions? Sometimes, for emphasis, we avoid a contraction or maybe we do so to vary the wording a little.
Our tendency when writing can be to write out each word and skip the contraction. And that may be because we’re sounding it all out in our heads a little at a time. But we edit. When going back to edit, remember to use contractions except for the occasional use of both words for weight.
Take a class with me at writersonlineworkshops.com. Talk to me about a line edit at GHayden2@nyc.rr.com. Buy some of my fiction such as Question Woman & Howling Sky or buy my style guide—The Naked Writer—with just about everything you need to write fiction or nonfiction (even letters) correctly. Feel free to ask questions in the comments section here.