I’ve probably talked about this in pieces before, but I want to consolidate it all into one article for you.
Though there are no specific rules in fiction, there are some general guidelines one should follow for the use of contractions for consistency.
Most native English speakers use contractions. We do it without thinking. It’s a way to abbreviate words, it’s slang, sort of, a shorthand way of getting to the point. It applies to a certain class of words.
On the other hand, those not native to the language tend to not use contractions as much, or not at all. They’re not used to the quirks and idioms of our tongue. It depends on how immersed they were in their language course, what environment they learned in, how fast they were on the uptake and a whole host of other factors.
In narrative, generally, contractions are not used. Everything is spelled out. Why? Narrative is NOT dialogue, it’s NOT speech. It’s narrative, description, it’s the other part of the story. It’s not supposed to be as spoken. You don’t use shortcuts like that. It’s not the correct style because it’s not the conversational part of the story.
When do and don’t you use contractions in dialogue?
Generally, what I do is use contractions for native speakers when they’re speaking in their native tongue, regardless of the language.
That’s right. It doesn’t matter if it’s English. They can be speaking German for all I care. If they’re speaking German, even if that language doesn’t use contractions, they’re using the German equivalent of contractions, whatever they may be.
Think about it. You of course, aren’t going to have two Germans chatting back and forth in German because you’re writing in English for an English speaking audience. You’re going to tell the reader they’re speaking German but they’re going to be speaking English. However, to make them speak comfortably and make it sound native, they’re going to speak English as if it were German, which means it’s going to sound natural, which would include contractions. See?
Now, let’s look at it from the other side. Say they’re Germans speaking English. They have an accent, but speak acceptable English. However, it’s not their native tongue. They would likely speak without contractions, using every word instead of our shorthand because it’s awkward to them. Also, this is your way of distinguishing their speech from ours. It gives them a distinctive voice instead of trying to give them an accent in every sentence, or too much of one, which can be annoying. Overdone, it can be distracting.
In my writing, non-native speakers don’t use contractions. Period.
Now, as for a native speaker not using contractions?
There are circumstances when you want to emphasize something. For instance, “I will not go there!” That’s instead of “I won’t go there.”
The will not being emphasized.
As for narrative, I don’t use contractions at all in narrative. Period.
Now, in autobiographical narrative, which is conversational, you can use contractions because it’s you talking. The same for first-person POV. Why? It’s conversational. It’s coming from the POV character telling the story. In doing so, you or the POV character are telling the story in conversational English.
You may now get that these contraction rules apply to third-person POV.
By keeping contractions where they belong, you keep your prose clean.