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Writing tip: Use contractions in dialogue

Posted by Maria Murnane | March 21, 2016

I recently bought an indie book written by a very nice man I met at a conference a few years ago. He and I have stayed in touch since then, so I wanted to support him and his writing. I really hoped to enjoy his debut novel, but unfortunately I didn’t get very far before I put it down for good.

The reason? The dialogue.

To be specific, no one used contractions, so everyone sounded like robots.

If your characters sound like this, you have a problem

Well-written dialogue draws you into the story and makes you feel like the people speaking are real. So to write good dialogue, use language that sounds the way people actually talk. And in English, that includes contractions. A lot of them.

Quick refresher: A contraction is when you use an apostrophe to shorten one or more words. For example:

Did not becomes didn’t

Is not becomes isn’t

Do not becomes don’t

I am becomes I’m

He is becomes he’s

Contractions aren’t often used in formal writing, but they are for informal conversation, especially in the United States.

When I read dialogue with no contractions, to me everyone sounds like Arnold Schwarzenegger, and eventually I get so distracted by the unnatural-sounding cadence that I give up on the story. Perhaps read your own dialogue to see if it passes the robot test. I’m pretty sure that if the author of this novel had done so, he would have made a large number of edits before sending the book to print.

-Maria

p.s. if you want a character to sound like Arnold, now you know how to create one!

 

This blog post originally appeared on CreateSpace.com. Reprinted with permission. © 2015 CreateSpace, a DBA of On-Demand Publishing, LLC. All rights reserved.

 

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