So, a month or two ago, I was suddenly gripped by this paranoid memory of a high school English class and some vague recollection that I should never use contractions in my writing.  (And I saw the question pop up again the other day in a thread on Absolute Write.  It’s not the first time it’s come up: see here and here.  I’m sure there are others, too.)

When I researched this a couple of months ago, the “formal” answer I was able to find was that you can use contractions in any dialogue as well as in first person point of view (since it’s basically a person talking the entire book), but that you should avoid using it elsewhere.

I didn’t like that.  It made my writing feel stilted and awkward.  So, I settled for the ultimate test, which is, what do the published authors I read do?  I went to the bookcase (a small one here since I tend to frequent the library when I’m overseas), and, after eliminating all first person POV novels, I ended up with books by Brad Thor, Tad Williams, and Alan Hollinghurst (very different writing styles as you can imagine).  And within a random page or two of each I was able to find at least one contraction used in the narrative.

Which was good enough for me.  I wanted to use contractions and I found three out of the three books I pulled off of the shelf used them.  There may be genres where this is not as acceptable, but I don’t seem to read them and I certainly don’t write them.  And, ultimately, like all the other “writing rules” out there, I think the writer needs to decide what works for the story they’re telling.  Do it well and no one will care.

Anyway.  I thought I’d share my own personal discovery for anyone out there who had also had that paranoid high school memory and was either struggling along trying to do something that felt unnatural and wrong or who hadn’t yet tracked down the answer.

And now I’m off for a hike before it starts pouring rain later today.

About M. H. Lee

M.H. Lee is a speculative fiction writer currently residing in Colorado whose stories are sometimes dark, sometimes funny, sometimes darkly funny, but hopefully always thought-provoking and entertaining.
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