Are Contractions Ever Okay? Choosing Your Writing Style (Writer Wednesday)

Are Contractions Ever Okay? Choosing Your Writing Style (Writer Wednesday)

Hello Writer, and welcome back to my life.

It’s Writer Wednesday, where I give you my tips and advice on the art and the business of writing, and tell you how I do what I do as an indie author.

Today’s question comes from patron Kristen Stevens, who asks simply: are contractions in fantasy ever okay?

For anyone who doesn’t know the context, I’ve spoken a lot about style in fantasy books and the style I prefer, and how I don’t like super modern-sounding language.

And in my own Underrealm books, characters don’t speak with contractions at all. It’s simply not a speech pattern in the world.

So the simple answer to the question is, yes. Contractions are okay in fantasy. I mean, for crying out loud, Tolkien used them in both The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings.

That’s the literal answer to the literal question, but I’m going to use the rest of this video to speak to a broader issue about the style choices we make as writers.

So if contractions are good enough for Tolkien, why aren’t they good enough for me?

Contractions are simply and only an element of style. They, like everything else, are a choice that evoke a certain feeling in your reader.

Spelling and grammar themselves are elements of style. Correct spelling and grammar tell your reader that you’re a professional who knows how to communicate.

But you can, for example, purposefully misuse spelling and grammar to indicate that a character (or your narrator) aren’t so formal, or even that they’re uneducated.

Now, correct spelling and grammar are probably the most universally dogmatic elements of style. Everyone agrees they should be done a certain way, and you’d only do it differently for a very specific reason.

But other style elements are a lot more fluid and up to the author’s own personal choices.

Going back to Tolkien and the Lord of the Rings, you can see from even a casual reading of the text that the people who use contractions the most are the Hobbits.

They are a quaint, small-town sort of people, and so they tend to speak in a very casual, offhand manner, which includes lots of contractions.

And you see that choice mirrored by most of the other characters who speak to them. Aragorn and Gandalf can speak in very, very formal language, at which point almost all their contractions vanish.

But when THEY are speaking to the Hobbits, they get very casual, and they use contractions a lot.

This is something we do when talking to each other. The way you talk to your principal at school is different from how you speak to your parents, which is different from how you speak to your best friend.

You might have experienced people who slide into the accent of whoever they’re talking to. I’ve been known to do it on occasion. This is another variation of the same thing.

You match the style quirks of the person you’re communicating with to make that communication easier.

Because in a very real way, speaking to a mere co-worker at your job FEELS very different from speaking to a close personal friend.

And that’s the point. The rules of grammar aren’t the way they are because someone sat down and wrote them in a rulebook.

Someone sat down and wrote the rulebook on grammar after the usage had already evolved on its own. And that usage changes depending on context.

Underrealm is supposed to be an epic land where great people do great deeds, and society is much slower, more measured and more thoughtful than our own.

And that’s why I chose not to have my characters speak with any contractions. It makes me, at least, FEEL the way I want my world and my characters to feel.

Going to Brandon Sanderson, whose style I’ve talked a lot about before—his style FEELS different from how I like my fantasy to feel, but it’s not WRONG.

His book Mistborn is basically a drawn-out heist movie in a post-apocalyptic fantasy setting. And his style of writing matches that feeling perfectly.

If he changed the style, he’d have to create almost an entirely different book to go along with it.

It’s just that that style does feel a little incongruous in certain moments in the books that are my favorite moments because they’re closest to what I expect from epic fantasy: big sacrifices, huge, epic battles, etc.

But on the other side, his style lends itself very well to witty quips and dialogue and excellent conversations, which his book is all about.

Whereas when I try to write a lighter or funnier moment with my characters, my style probably makes that land a bit less well than it could if I were going for a more modern tone in my writing.

So as with everything, read a lot, study a lot, and decide for yourself what style creates the feeling in your reader that you’re trying to go for.

Then work on that style and refine it to more closely accomplish what you’re setting out to do.

And if that includes contractions—you’re fine.

Thank you, Kristen, for this great question! I hope you found the answer helpful, along with everyone else.

As a reminder to the public viewers, my $5 patrons on Patreon get to see these videos two weeks in advance, and they’re also the only ones who can submit questions for me to answer in the series. So maybe check out the Patreon if that sounds good.

Thank you so much for watching, thank you to my patrons for their incredible support, and I will see you next Wednesday. Byyye!

Garrett Robinson

Over 100,000 readers have read and loved Garrett's books, like the fantasy hits Nightblade and Midrealm. He's also a film festival favorite with movies like Unsaid, and a tech guru who posts lots of helpful how-tos for writers and filmmakers over at garrettbrobinson.com.

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