1. mashers

    mashers Contributor Contributor Community Volunteer

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    Contractions in 3rd person

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by mashers, Jul 19, 2017.

    What are people's opinions on using contractions in 3rd person? I've been avoiding them, but I think it makes my writing sound like it's trying to be too grandiose. For example:

    He did not need to check his diary to know this; the news had been delivered the day before his 37th birthday.

    vs

    He didn’t need to check his diary to know this; the news had been delivered the day before his 37th birthday.

    I prefer the latter, but wonder whether using this tone throughout would be too informal. I realise this is somewhat a matter of personal style, but I also know that readers will have certain expectations. I'm writing SF, so won't be using colloquial narrative except in dialogue. But I'm wondering if contractions like this would be OK. Might be helpful in my ongoing quest to depurplify ;)
     
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  2. Shadowfax

    Shadowfax Contributor Contributor

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    I think it's a matter of taste, and on a case by case basis.

    There are times when a contraction sounds too informal in narrative. Most times they sound too informal for speech.

    The example you've given sounds better contracted, although as a general rule I prefer narrative uncontracted.

    For speech, I'd probably only use an uncontracted form for emphasis.

    "Mary-Sue, do not dare put your dirty shoes on that clean carpet."
     
  3. mashers

    mashers Contributor Contributor Community Volunteer

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    Thanks, that's good advice. I'll need to make a decision and then make sure I'm consistent.

    Classic Mary-Sue :p
     
  4. Tenderiser

    Tenderiser Not a man or BayView

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    Contractions, definitely. The lack of them sounds too stiff and formal for my tastes. Of course, some authors are trying for a stiff and gradiose effect... but it doesn't sound like you are.
     
  5. BayView

    BayView Huh. Interesting. Contributor

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    Yeah, contractions for sure, unless you're making a deliberate style choice for some reason.
     
  6. jannert

    jannert Who? Whooo? Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Probably a good idea to read some of your passages out loud and see how they sound to you. Use whichever sounds right for what you're doing.
     
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  7. mashers

    mashers Contributor Contributor Community Volunteer

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    Thanks everyone. Contractions it is :)
     
  8. xanadu

    xanadu Contributor Contributor

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    It depends on the tone you're going for with the narrative, as others have said. Even in 3rd, the narrative should reflect the voice of the POV character, so if that character would use contractions, the narrative should use contractions.
     
  9. mashers

    mashers Contributor Contributor Community Volunteer

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    That’s a good way of putting it, and one I hadn’t considered.
     
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  10. Homer Potvin

    Homer Potvin The game sour like a pickle be.... Contributor

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    If you want to be super-cool you can do contractions without apostrophes...

    Dont, isnt, wasnt, hes, shes, theyre...

    You might win Pulitzers like Cormac McCarthy!
     
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  11. mashers

    mashers Contributor Contributor Community Volunteer

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    That should have won a copy of the Oxford English Dictionary, administered rectally.
     
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  12. Seven Crowns

    Seven Crowns Contributor Contributor

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    It depends on the surrounding text. I don't think this is an always or never answer. There are times when the rhythm of the words needs to be heard.

    He did not need to check his diary to know this; the news had been delivered the day before his 37th birthday.
    vs
    He didn’t need to check his diary to know this; the news had been delivered the day before his 37th birthday.

    Here, at a glance, I would have done the second, and I wouldn't have dwelt on it much or at all. The decision is almost subconscious.

    Now if I try to slow down and explain to myself what my bizarre thought process behind the decision was (thinking til it hurts. . .)
    • The first sounds like the narrator speaking. The second sounds like the character coming to a decision.
    • It's a parallelism around the semicolon, and the sentences are weighted similarly. I would choose "didn't need" to contrast with "had been delivered." If they're too balanced they draw attention here.
    • Keeping variation, the first sounds better when the one-syllable words are broken. "He did not need to check his . . . to know this." The "didn't" slips into the rhythm and makes it more interesting.
    • "Did not need" is read in stutters because each word ends with a plosive. "Didn't need" reads smoother.
    (There are more, but trust me, you don't want to know . . .)

    So those decisions range from the high-level (narrator vs. character) to the middle (sentence and phrase) to the very low (syllabic). And I don't have the surrounding paragraph, because that could change things too . . .

    Don't think I'm crazy. The decision took an effortless second. The explanation is a bit more painful.

    My point is: There is seldom a catchall rule. It really truly depends on the surrounding text.
     

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