Writers need to keep several aspects in mind when trying to write a successful piece, such as audience, purpose, form, and tone. Tone is an especially tricky part of rhetoric to nail down. Different mediums call for different types of tones. The writer’s tone for a blog article differs greatly from the writer’s tone for a scholarly article. Even on the same platform, such as two blog articles, various tones should be used depending on the intended goal. A more casual blog on cooking usually calls for a lighter tone whereas a blog on domestic abuse would likely adopt a more serious tone. As writers, there are little tricks we can implement to change the tone of our writing depending on the purpose and audience. One of the easiest ways, as well as highly effective, is closely monitoring your use of contractions
Contractions in General Writing
Some people don’t think contractions make a big difference in writing. Some people do not think contractions make a big difference in writing.
Well, I disagree. The first sentence implies a more casual writing style while the second sounds much more formal. It’s hard to believe that the difference of spelling out a contraction can change a tone so significantly, but this small change will shape the language of a piece. How? Well, you may notice that when speaking with others, you likely switch between tones depending on your familiarity with each person. You speak differently with your best friend than with your boss as well as differently with your mother compared to a stranger. Contractions are just a small but noticeable switch most of us make when talking with different people. In speech, contractions tend to suggest less formality, which is why they are typically used with closer acquaintances, and we naturally speak without contractions in more formal conversations.
This same pattern occurs in writing, especially with experienced writers. However, beginning writers, especially in academia, fail to recognize the importance of subtle differences like contractions. If you take a scholarly article and use contractions instead of spelling out such phrases, the article will likely sound off to you as a reader, although you may not immediately notice why. The same can be said about a light-hearted blog article suddenly spelling out every single contraction. Experiment with contractions and you will find that they play a large role in the tone of your writing.
How to Choose Which Form to Use
With this information, you might be unsure which form to use on a certain piece of writing. Remember that this all comes back to the main topic of tone. Decide what tone you are trying to convey to your audience and the overall purpose of the writing piece. Let’s go back to the earlier example of a blog on domestic abuse. An article featuring in this domestic abuse blog will likely use a more serious tone and therefore avoid contractions since the audience expects such a solemn topic to be treated with more formality and seriousness.
Once you decide on a tone, from there, it is easy to know whether you chose correctly. You will likely find that some writing pieces teeter on the line between formal and casual. These are the times you especially need to experiment with the use of contractions. Try reading the writing piece with contractions, then try reading it without contractions. One will most likely stick out to you as the better option when read out loud. Go with that form, and remember to stay consistent throughout. If you have used the more formal lack of contractions in your writing piece, a sudden contraction in a sentence will especially stick out to your readers. So be careful to not accidentally slip back and forth between the two.
Contractions in Fiction
Now, fiction is where contractions become a sticky subject. You will likely find that most novels use contractions in the narrative as it is more casual. There are exceptions to this, of course, particularly seen with literature and more serious novels. As the writer, you will know which naturally works with your manuscript.
The variety in fiction with contractions and no contractions really comes with the dialogue. Characters all speak in different ways, simply because people do not use the same form and phrases when speaking. Many characters may use similar speech patterns or tones with other alike characters, but certainly none of your characters should sound exactly the same. Sometimes, we as writers subconsciously write our characters, so they all speak in the same way as we individually talk in real life. While this is natural, this is also something we should avoid. Characters should not be written clones of the author, nor should they all be the same character in slightly different shells.
Just as I suggested experimenting with contractions in other writing pieces, try using contractions as a way to define your characters. More formal individuals would use contractions, perhaps even among close friends, whereas other characters may use contractions at all times. Even the same character may use contractions differently from one conversation to the next. A conversation without any contractions may help show rigidity or tension between two characters, and a conversation with numerous contractions will help readers identify more friendly relationships.
Contractions are subtle but powerful tools in a writer’s arsenal, and this is even more so for fiction writers. Pay close attention to contractions in character dialogue next time you sit down to write, and you may just be pleasantly surprised by the difference it makes.
Mackenzie Hendricks graduated from Brigham Young University-Idaho with a Bachelor in English. She currently works as a freelance writer and editor.
She enjoys reading all types of genres, but her favorites are fantasy and historical fiction. In addition to writing nonfiction and scholarly articles, she also dabbles in creative writing in her spare time.