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Contracted and Uncontracted forms

Contracted and Uncontracted forms

Contracted and Uncontracted forms

(OP)
I wonder if anyone can help me with the subject of contracted and uncontracted forms.

In terms of fiction, I had always assumed contracted forms such as shouldn't, hadn't, wasn't, he'd etc. were only to be used in dialog. But I think that is an incorrect assumption, in which case, is there a standard or some set of rules where they should be used?

Regardless of standard/rules, I'm assuming the usage should at least be consistent throughout the text.

Personally, I prefer;
He had visited the city many times
to
He'd visited the city many times
unless the phrase was part of dialog.

But there are also awkward situations like;
He'd noticed that she had not done that

I'm beginning to think that contractions should ALWAYS be used in fiction, unless the writer wants to place some emphasis on the 'not' part.
He'd said many times that he would not go there.

Any help appreciated in clearing the fog.

RE: Contracted and Uncontracted forms

Because you are talking fiction I would suggest it would depend on the atmosphere you are trying to create.

For example a 3rd party telling of a story in upper class Victorian England would necessitate a completely different style to as story being told 1st hand by a peasant from the middle ages.

The style would have to be chosen to suit and remain consistent otherwise it would just look like sloppy writing as opposed to a deliberate style choice, See "The Moon is a Harsh Mistress" for an example of writing in a specific dialect.

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Do things on the cheap & it will cost you dear

RE: Contracted and Uncontracted forms

I think it also depends on the perspective from which you write.
If your main character is also the narrator, I think contracted forms would be just fine.
If you use an outside narrator I would prefer non-contracted forms in the narrative and contracted forms in direct speech only.

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RE: Contracted and Uncontracted forms

(OP)
If your main character is also the narrator, I think contracted forms would be just fine.
If you use an outside narrator I would prefer non-contracted forms in the narrative and contracted forms in direct speech only.


That is probably a better way of expressing my original assumption. I think of the narrative as being 'formal' and the dialog as 'informal'. As IPGuru mentions, it also depends on the 'level' of formality.

Having said that I can also see a choice when sentences become littered with 'had' for instance.
If he had not known that Joe had not done it, then he would not have worried.

In narrative, it might be better as;
If he hadn't known that Joe had not done it, then he wouldn't have worried.

I knew its a rotten sentence anyway, but neither sound quite right to me.

RE: Contracted and Uncontracted forms

I agree with the posts so far. IPGuru's mentioning "style choices" to "create an atmosphere" are spot on in my opinion. MakeItSo's comments on taking into account who is narrating the story is also spot on.

My opinion is that fiction writing is an art form, and art can't be defined in hard and fast rules. You wouldn't make rules for painting that there should be no purples in a sunset painting, or green in a portrait. All colours should be available and are up to the artist to use as he/she sees fit.

"The Moon is a Harsh Mistress" is a good example. "Snow Crash" is a more recent example. Toward overall writing styles to set moods, I would offer anything by Raymond Chandler.

Personally I prefer a very conversational writing style. I like to write the way I would speak to someone. It gives a very unflavored base for when I want to give someone an accent, or inflection, or just a different feel. The contrast makes the dialog stand out more.



RE: Contracted and Uncontracted forms

(OP)
All good inputs, thank you.

I grabbed a few books at random from my own paltry collection and in every case, they were written using the contracted forms throughout. The only exception was a book which was actually more of a history book than a fictional book.

So I'm rapidly concluding that for a modern/informal story, use of the contracted form is prevalent and seems to have become the 'standard'. Obviously for non-fiction (more formal) or where some intonation is needed (in an informal text), the uncontracted form is used. So perhaps modern literature may contain something like 90% contracted to 10% uncontracted.

Ultimately readability is the key and the contracted form is certainly easier for a reader to sub-vocalise and probably better for a younger audience. The issue of 'atmosphere' however I find more challenging to nail down. That probably depends on how authorative the narrator is intended to be.

I also heard another opinion which is like one more log to put on the fire. I was told today by a colleague that contracted forms are appropriate when writing around people, but uncontracted were more suited to writing about objects.

So I'm assuming the application of that would be something like;
The hotel had not been decorated for many years.
He hadn't decorated the hotel for many years.



RE: Contracted and Uncontracted forms

(OP)
Two minutes after submitting the last post I came across this;
http://trevor-hopkins.org.uk/lyndesfarne/murder-br...

This text is informal, but there is only contracted forms in dialog! So now I'm back where I started. Agghhh!!

RE: Contracted and Uncontracted forms

I don't think you situation has changed
it all depends on the atmosphere you wish to be setting in your story
like most rules in English there are probably more examples where the rule is broken than where it holds true.

The most important thing is to choose the style that works for this instance and then stick to it. Inconsistency would be far worse than either of the two options.

A Maintenance contract is essential, not a Luxury.
Do things on the cheap & it will cost you dear

RE: Contracted and Uncontracted forms

What you're (you are) trying to develop is your "ear". The two versions do sound different to the inner voice of the reader as they read. As IPGuru just said,

Quote (IPGuru)

it all depends on the atmosphere you wish to be setting in your story

I found I started writing better (IMO) when I started "listening" to what I wrote.


RE: Contracted and Uncontracted forms

(OP)
Very good point Sam and I'm coming around to that line of thinking. I think I'm searching for a 'writing rule' which does not actually exist.

'How' it is written will certainly influence the readers experience. The text should fuel the readers mind/imagination, not pre-occupy it a struggle to sub-vocalise awkward wording. As you mention, if it is easy to read aloud, then it is well written. I remember a great teacher at school that would often read a story to the classroom. When she was speaking, I was almost unaware the story was being delivered by her reading it. Her intonation and adjustment of pace was so good, I almost felt like I was watching a movie, being projected onto my mind. I would love to emulate her reading ability, but in my writing.

Going forwards, I think I'm going to adopt the simple policy that it should sound correct and contracted/uncontracted forms are merely tools in the writers toolbox, to be used as and when needed, to make it more readable.

RE: Contracted and Uncontracted forms

Regarding the writing style setting the atmosphere, read James Joyce's Ulysses. The book chronicles the events of a single day, but each chapter is written in a different style, due to the fact that it's being told from the viewpoint of a different character (if I understood it correctly). In fact one chapter is a stream of conciousness run on devoid of punctuation. It matches the mind of that chapter's narrator.

Finnegan's Wake, also by Joyce, is a heavy handed example of word choice and language setting a feel for the book. I suggest this with a chuckle, as this is the only book that has ever stumped me. I retry reading it every five or ten years hoping I'll have grown to the point that I get it. No luck so far. Maybe on my death bed. bigsmile


RE: Contracted and Uncontracted forms

(OP)
I'll read Ulysses but maybe save the other for prison clown

RE: Contracted and Uncontracted forms

is there any room for compound-conjunctions?

Ex:
I shouldn't/wouldn't/couldn't have = I shouldn't've / wouldn't've / couldn't've

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