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Am I Wrong to Avoid Contractions?

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Dear Editor…

I heard an agent tell an author not to avoid contractions with a certain character she was creating—in this case, an alien’s voice. The agent said that purposefully avoiding contractions was a distraction—that it slowed the flow of the language. I had avoided using contractions for the aliens throughout my entire novel WIP. I guess I was after that Other that they presented. Other as in “not human.” Do you have an opinion on this topic?

Sincerely,
The Alien Whisperer

Dear Alien Whisperer…

Indeed, I do: Do what feels right to you for this character, in this project. I expect it will be noticeable—but isn’t that the goal with your aliens? Zero-contraction dialogue will make them sound like non-native speakers. Avoiding contractions is also a great device when a character code-switches to formal conversation with adults or authority figures: “I wouldn’t do that” to their pals, but “I would not do that” to their bosses. Here’s where I have a problem with the no-contraction thing: in dialogue that’s not intended to sound non-native or to be calibrated for authority figures. Dialogue like “I would not do that” and “I wish I had been there” in everyday conversation sounds stilted, and stilted dialogue absolutely “slows the flow.” When I see that happening in a manuscript I’m editing, I call it out. In most cases, we want readers to focus on the content of what’s being said, not how it’s being said. Alrighty then! With that answer in the can, this Trekkie is stepping away from her work desk to watch “Hero Worship,” a favorite episode of Star Trek: Next Generation that stars the android character Data, who never uses contractions—except when he accidentally does. Oopsie-daisy….

Happy writing!
The Editor

The Editor, Deborah Halverson, has been editing books for over 25 years and specializes in Middle Grade/Young Adult fiction and nonfiction, New Adult fiction, and picture books. For her editorial guidance in making your manuscript ready for submission to agents and publishers or for self-publishing, click Editorial services.