My first poll experiment – contractions in fiction

I’ve never run a poll before. As I’m planning to write a blog focusing on what I’ve learnt about editing, I thought this little experiment might be fun.

When my editor, Alison Williams, first mentioned to me ‘There are places where your writing sounds a little too formal, a little strained, usually where you haven’t used contractions’ I was a bit confused. I’d always thought you could only use contractions in dialogue.

I headed straight to my overflowing bookcase and checked out my favourite fantasy authors (David Gemmell, Robin Hobb) and a whole selection of other novels in every genre I own. I checked old and newly published works, and of course I researched the subject online. I was amazed to find that authors have been using contractions all this time and I hadn’t realised. It’s one of those things you just don’t notice unless you’re looking for it. I hope I’m not alone in my confusion, it certainly seems to be a much covered topic on the internet.

Please join in the poll, share and comment. If it works, I’ll be writing about the results next week.

7 thoughts on “My first poll experiment – contractions in fiction

  1. I think it depends. When my Mum was in school it was deemed unthinkable to put contractions in unless it was for dialogue and also that you could NEVER start a sentence with ‘and’, ‘but’ or ‘so’. As times move on, these rules change. Personally I think it depends on the type of story you’re writing. For example, a modern romance/YA would be fine to use them a lot while high fantasy you might want to go easy on them.

    I think skipping a contraction can sometimes add to a scene – especially when you have a scene where you need to build mood. For example ‘She was so angry she *could not* believe what she was seeing’ – the ‘could not’ just implies (to me) more anger. In my experience when people are angry they tend to stretch out words and use less contractions to buy time to calm down (think of a friend who you may have heard say ‘I just can NOT believe this!’.

    That said, the English language is a constantly changing thing. I think some of it comes down to personal preference. If I read something with no contractions at all it can sometimes come across as stuffy and archaic. I don’t know that there is a ‘one fits all’ rule – it comes down to the tone you wish to set and the type of story that it is.

    Liked by 1 person

      • I also think it depend on the age of your target audience. If you’re aiming your work at older people, say 40 upwards, you may need to use contractions sparingly since that’s closer to the language they will have been taught and be familiar with. If your target audience are 30 and under, you’d probably be fine with using contractions since this is the language they’re used to and use. So many things to take into account! As if writing and editing weren’t hard enough as it was!

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      • As one who reads a great many genres, I have noticed subtle language differences between the work of say David Eddings and somebody like Rick Riordan. I do agree fantasy is one of the few genres that is much broader – it’s not (as far as I know) restricted to a specific age range or gender but I do still find that depending on whether it is shelved under ‘Fantasy’ or ‘YA’ will depend on how many contractions are used. Funny thing to notice I know. This of course does not apply to every author and every book – another factor is the author themselves and what language they’re happy with using. See once you start … you can get caught up in a web of things to consider.

        Liked by 1 person

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