Friday, December 19, 2014

Writing Tips #2: Contractions

The author I mentioned in Writing Tips #1 (yeah I know this is old, sorry. I suck at keeping track of things sometimes) had this thing with contractions. Taken out of writing context that sounds weird. Oh English, how I love you and your homonyms....

Anyway, in her prose there wasn't a single contraction to be found. Even her characters did not use many (if any) contractions. That's a feat in any kind of fiction.

This tip kind of expands on the first because if you don't use contractions in dialogue your characters will come off as too formal, arrogant or downright rude. Perfectly fine if you want this to happen but not so good if it's not what you're aiming for.

Some examples: in Tale of the Twins, Lysandra never contracts her words. Why is this important? My friend said to me the other day Lysandra comes off as a bit arrogant where Leopold is the more personable (and crazy) of the two. I explained that's how they're supposed to work: Lysandra being the super-organized, highly intelligent twin with Leopold being the complete nutcase. They balance each other out.

Xeros, Tashira, Ayla and Kien from The Cara Series all speak without using a single contraction and when they do use one, people around them know they're really angry or under a lot of stress. Why don't they? Well: Xeros and Tashira are both 10,000+ year old Mages who grew up in a time where being formal as a Mage was looked well upon. It was schooled into them. Ayla is the last remaining member of her family so she wants to come across as more capable (to rule), and highly intelligent. Kien because he's a prince born out of wedlock and wants to come across as capable of being King.

In Seer/Seeker Ice doesn't contract his words either. Why? Because he's cold, emotionless and arrogant. Sometimes he's downright rude, especially to his four-hour younger brother Dawn. Furthering that, one of the 'bad guys' avoids words that could contract at all making him seem a bit insane and arrogant. The vampire Magnus doesn't contract his words and comes across as arrogant and powerful.

How a person talks tells you a lot about that person. It's an especially effective way to get a character's personally to flow into their words in fiction. Accents, contractions, emphasizing certain words all tell reader's stories of what your character is like.

Listen to how people speak. Do most people use do not, cannot, did not, will not, I will? No? Then don't use them in character dialogue. If you know someone who doesn't use a lot of contractions then ask yourself why. Is it their upbringing? Their education? How do they speak? What's their candor and tone? How does their way of speaking make you feel?

You can use contractions in prose, especially if your prose is from the first person point of view because no one thinks that formally either. In third person it's touch and go. It depends completely on what is going on in the scene, what the POV character is like/how they talk, the tone of your book and your intended audience. I've used contractions in most of my novels and they're especially helpful if you want your writing to feel more "real." A quick Google search will tell you that contractions are accepted in prose but like everything else: it depends what is going on at the time.

I'll try to keep up numbered writing tips but no promises. I tend to get distracted by shiny things, writing, kittens, TV shows, and life in general. I'll eventually delve into showing vs telling, and Point of View. Probably a few other things. And if you missed it I'm trying to do a numbered writing series because hey, after writing 3 million words I must have learned something...right? RIGHT? Ahaha...

Until next time: thoughts, comments, rages, rants, questions, and out-right insults can be directed to the comments section.

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