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HAPPY OR CRAPPY/ENDINGS REVISITED

January 25, 2017

From the title, you can see that I’ve talked about this before. Why? Well, after 200+ articles on writing, I’ve talked on just about everything at one time or tuther! That doesn’t mean it doesn’t need to be addressed again when the muse strikes. In this case, my muse came from a recent discussion on the Facebook Genre Writer’s Retreat for Fantasy /SciFi/Steam Punk that I’m a member of. Someone brought up the subject of endings and I thought it was a perfect time to revisit this, especially after my recent burning from a Stephen King-endorsed author.

The gist of the Facebook thread was this: “How do you feel about happy endings?”

The general consensus was for happy, or positive, though there were those that either didn’t care or a few who liked bad endings. There are always a few. There are some who don’t mind if the main character or characters die for a purpose while others don’t like it at all.

We’ll get into that a bit here.

FIRST, THE NEGATIVE

Some people love to wallow in their misery. Because real life sucks, so should their stories. When you watch the news, see real life, when friends and family die, sometimes horribly, the author wants to reflect that in their prose. Some readers prefer to get that emotional jolt from their books. They want to be brought down with their story, knowing the hero/heroine/heroes die in the end. These stories are definitely for glass-is-half-empty people.

On the other hand, some people like surprises. What if? That’s right. What if you never know if this author is going to let a character live, such as in Game of Thrones? If you’re a fan, you well know that the author likes to kill off characters. There are only some survivors and when one of them dies, it’s a surprise. Kind of like real life. Though the story is fantasy, it’s also more realistic than other fantasies in that people die, even good guys, right along with the bad guys, and some of the bad guys live…a long time!

If you’re so inclined, these negative stories are right up your alley. True fake realism is your thing. Glass-is-half-empty is the way.

SECOND, THE BITTERSWEET

Okay, now we have the heart-tuggers. Those that like an extreme tug on the emotions. The hero, heroines or other well-liked characters die because they have to for some compelling reason. It’s all sad, but necessary. Not everyone dies, but often, you already know someone is doomed from the start, yet you keep on reading. Maybe the story is told in flashback, or from someone else’s point of view. As a reader and/or writer, you need that emotional jolt for whatever reason. These may or may not be for glass-is-half-full people but are usually still for glass-is-half-empty people as well.

THIRD, THE HAPPY ENDING

This is where probably, the majority of us fall. The hero or heroine lives to tell about it. This isn’t to say that someone doesn’t die, but not the main character or characters. This isn’t to say that one of the sidekicks may not die at some point either, if it’s a series. However, even that could be a severe blow to the readership.

For most people, the entire point of reading is to escape reality, not relive it! Ah, duh! Why do you think we read, go to movies, watch TV, or listen to music? To take our minds off our troubles!

If we wanted to be Debbie Downers and wallow in our misery, well…there are certainly plenty of books movies and TV around to do that, thank you Stephen King, for one. However, most people want to escape all that by reading something uplifting, something that’ll help them escape for a little while before they have to get back to the real world.

They want a story where the heroes and heroines endure in the end!

Can I say it any simpler than that?

SUMMARY

From the question in the Facebook post poll, the majority preferred happy endings. However, there were a few who didn’t mind bittersweet and a few who liked unhappy endings. As writers, they have the power to steer their stories in any direction they want. That means they’ll also attract the readership they want.

Personally, I want to make my readership happy. I want them to have a fun time and be able to close the book with a smile on their face, not a frown or a sigh of relief, or a tear, though a tear of joy instead of sorrow (not bittersweet sorrow) wouldn’t be bad either.

How about you?

I don’t close each of these essays with “happy writing” for nothing!

TWEAKING THE STORY

January 19, 2017

As some of you that follow this site know, I’m in the middle of editing my next upcoming novel, Lusitania Gold. This story has been a long time coming, one with a twenty-one year history. That being said, the manuscript has seen many tweaks over the decades. Here, I’ll discuss the process of how the story is slowly but surely (and don’t call me Shirley) coming to fruition. Maybe one day, if this ever happens to you, these insights may help.

BEGINNINGS

I’ve always been fascinated with sinking ships since my grandpappy sat me down in his lap in Lakewood, California in probably…1955 or so, and showed me pictures and stories from an Encyclopedia Britannica my parents had bought, back in the days when there were actually door-to-door encyclopedia salesmen. I guess they fell under that spell and we ended up with a set. Anyway…Grandpa Frank happened to pull out the L book and as we leafed through the pages, we came to one with the most famous or infamous drawing of the sinking of the Lusitania. The split second I saw that image, those four funnels, that hooked rudder and those gleaming propellers sticking above the water and all those people scrambling about in the water, it burned in my memory. I was only four years old, but never forgot that vision and became hooked on shipwrecks.

As time went on, unfortunately, the Lusitania faded into the background because the more infamous Titanic took center stage. However, there were plenty more unfortunate wrecks to read about as well, like the Morro Castle, Empress of Ireland, Sultana, Brittanic and hosts of others less well-knowns.

Decades later, when I fell into writing, thanks to inspiration from Clive Cussler and others, I wanted to put in my two cents and bring the Lusitania back into the mainstream. So, the seed of the idea for Lusitania Gold came into being.

EARLY VERSION

Though it’s gone through substantial editorial tweaks over the two decades since I originally wrote it in 1995, essentially, Lusitania Gold’s the same story. However, in the beginning, it had some bloat, as they say.

In my early research, the Internet was far more primitive than it is today. I did my due diligence and eked out all the details I could at the time based on what I could garner from the library and personal knowledge accumulated over a lifetime. As for the electronic side of research, part of the problem was my personal computer. I also didn’t have access to Google Maps like we do today, among other web sites. It was 1993 when Bob Ballard explored the ship and did the video of his dive on the wreck. Around that time, he published that excellent book that I relied on extensively.

In 1992, I devoured Clive Cussler’s novel Sahara. That novel as well as the first book I read by him, Raise The Titanic, gave me inspiration for the wishful thinking I employed when I wove the plot for Lusitania Gold. Not only that, but along with being fresh off my just finished icky bug novel, The Greenhouse, I added a little surprise. It turns out that another author, which became a later influence, had a strange parallel as well. James Rollins also employed this same surprise in his early novels but was fortunate and talented enough to get published while I was still struggling in the trenches! It was almost a decade later when I read my first taste of his work and discovered he used the same thing.

That whole mix ended up being in the first draft of Lusitania Gold. It was 130K words. Along with that were a few sub-plots. As the years passed, after many query letters and subsequent blind edits by me as I learned my chops, and not knowing what I was doing, they never got deleted like they should.

FIRST MAJOR EDIT – A DECADE LATER

I’d received minor interest and had sent several samples out, chapters and an entire manuscript to a few places, but ultimately, rejects of around eighty or ninety agents and publishers as I recall. By the time I arrived in Las Vegas and found the Henderson Writer’s Group, I decided it was time to read Lusitania Gold to them and get twenty to thirty sets of eyes on it. I knew I needed lots of external input. Besides, my writing and editing chops were light-years ahead of what they were a decade before, plus, I’d set it aside and had already written three or four sequels since!

The tweaking began in earnest! I found sub-plots and passages that were destined for the trimming floor. There were things I didn’t need that had no impact on the story, and at the same time, I lost nothing of either the impact or the plot. I ended up tightening the plot and made it so much better.

On the other hand, because of much improved access to the internet, I also obtained new and improved info on the Lusitania wreck, contacted some divers that actually dove on the ship and obtained real info. This is something I was never able to do with Ballard. I tried multiple times to contact him and never once got a response from either him or anyone from his team.

As a result of this reading to the writer’s group, which took a year and a half, I pared it down from 130K to 95K. Quite a difference!

SUBSEQUENT EDITS

From the major edit after the writer’s group, I combed through it probably two times over the years, prior to various writer’s conferences. Why? Once in anticipation of pitching it. The second time because I actually got a publication contract. In each case, I tweaked and tweaked, and still found more things as my editing skills improved. I picked up a few more things through the forest (forest-through-the-trees).

When my original publishing contract fell through, the stars aligned and I found my real publisher, one who was there and had been there from the beginning of the major edit with the writer’s group. She’d been in on all the major tweaks and trimming it took to turn it into a better and more suitable manuscript. She knew the story intimately.

FINAL TWEAKING

Right now, as I’m going through the pre-publication editing, my editor and I are getting to the details. Yet even so, I keep tweaking more real facts. As it turns out, this editing process takes months. During that time, I received another book on the Lusitania for Christmas and read it. Because of that, I now have even more background detail to use for tweaking!

I’ve not only incorporated that into my edit, but have gone back to the Internet and re-tweaked my research. I’ve gone back to Google maps. I went back to the web sites I could recall. I also removed historical names of storms in the areas because I didn’t want to date the material. I’d mentioned certain recent hurricane damage but didn’t want to mention them once I thought about it. Since I’d mentioned those storms, there’d already been others worse!

I added the name of an airport, either added in or took out details I wasn’t sure about. Stuff I’ve been preaching to you about and stuff James Rollins and I talked about extensively at the writer’s conferences where we chatted about these details.

COLD DEAD HANDS

To quote Charlton Heston, which I’ve probably done before but without the guns, as authors, the work never ends until it’s in print, and even then, you want to pull it off the shelf and tweak some more. You want to edit until they pull the manuscript out of your cold dead hands!

I’ll continue to tweak Lusitania Gold until they pull…

Well, you get the picture.

There’ll still be things wrong, historically, physically, scientifically. Some of it’s intentional, wishful thinking. Some of it’s just my blunders. My tweaking is to try to make it as believable as possible – to get you to suspend your disbelief, so to speak. I can’t please everyone and I won’t even try. However, if I can get even some of you to close that last page with a smile on your face, I’ve done my job. I hope you, as writers feel the same way.

Happy writing!

NON-FICTION VERSUS TECHNICAL WRITING

January 11, 2017

Sometimes, people have confused the two. Turns out, they’re completely different styles. Since I’ve written both, I can speak from experience. I did technical writing as a profession for a decade. I’ve also written a number of non-fiction stories.

NON-FICTION

Oh…kay. When you think about it, both non-fiction and technical writing are “technically” non-fiction. So, what’s the difference? When it comes to just non-fiction writing, in this case, we’re usually talking about a non-fiction story of some kind. That could be an autobiography, a memoir, history, philosophy, news or something that’s not made up. Something told in story format that’s not fiction.

TECHNICAL WRITING

Now, as for technical or tech-writing. What is it? It’s usually instructions, raw information, something that isn’t in a story format. Directions how to get from point A to B. Instructions on how to put together a piece of furniture. Procedures on how to fly a plane. How to use a piece of software.

DIFFERENCES

Okay, both are non-fiction, per se, but in one, a story is still being told where in the other, instructions are being conveyed. There’s a huge difference in the style of the telling (or showing, if you want to go there).

NON-FICTION STORYTELLING

In non-fiction storytelling, there are characters, there’s a goal (sort of a plot), and there’s a story flow. The writing had this flow from A to B and it’s up to the writer to make it interesting and to keep the reader engaged. This is where a lot of non-fiction books fail. The writer’s, at least to me, go too much for the literary and overdo minor details, description, mood, so as to paint a vivid picture. They bog down in details that have little to do with the main gist of the story. That’s one reason I rarely read non-fiction, besides that I like to spend my reading time being entertained rather than getting educated. Don’t get me wrong. I like to learn, but pick and choose. I’ll often pick up a book and go right to the section I’m interested in, rather than slog through all the background.

In summary, in non-fiction writing, all the elements of fiction are there except it’s true and there are certain restrictions and barriers that cannot be crossed without losing the integrity of the story, such as certain emotions and feelings the writer cannot know without being the person (unless it’s second hand information).

The point is, in this type of writing, there are potential feelings, emotions, actions and descriptions.

TECHNICAL WRITING PROCESS

In the technical writing process, there’s no emotion, no philosophy, no personal pronouns! This is neutral prose with the whole purpose of conveying information. Period. There is no other purpose. There is no story, no plot, no entertainment. There are instructions to show you, the reader, how to get from point A to B and that’s it.

EXAMPLES

NON-FICTION STORYTELLING

Nicola Tesla was a man of electricity. However, he had a stiff competitor in Thomas Edison. They were at loggerheads over which had the best method of a national electrical distribution grid. In the end, Edison won.

TECHNICAL WRITING

Take the new blade, face it forward in the bottom clamp. Rake your finger over the teeth gently, to make sure the teeth are facing down. Once this is assured, set the bottom end of the blade into the bottom clamp and tighten the knob. Make sure it’s standing straight up through the hole in the table.

Now, thread the blade through the pilot hole in the wood piece and clamp the other end of the blade to the upper clamp. Make sure enough of the blade sticks through the clamp to ensure a good grab. Then tighten the upper clamp.

Finally, lock the tensioner and fleck the blade with a finger to make sure it’s tight.

Turn on the saw.

SUMMARY

Notice the differences now? There are two types of non-fiction. Story and technical.

There is another type, such as in textbooks. In this case, what you might have is a mixture of the two styles. It might start with the story part, then when it gets down and dirty, the style may shift to the technical side.

There are, of course varieties.

Use them wisely, Grasshopper!

Happy writing!

MIXING POVS FOR EFFECT

January 4, 2017

BACKGROUND

As you all know, I only read third-person, past tense. I find any other POV unreadable. That includes first-person, omniscient, second-person and anything in present-tense, regardless of POV. I get especially annoyed at head-hopping.

Now, if you look at what’s out there in the marketplace, you’ll see POV is all over the map. Some of it sells, while some of it, especially omniscient, is usually relegated to the self-publishing crowd. Second-person is most often seen in song lyrics as it does not go well with fiction.

Some people are okay with first-person. I don’t like it because of the myopic viewpoint and all the I’s, me’s and my’s. That’s purely personal taste. On the other hand, for autobiographies or memoirs, to me, it’s the only way to go because it’s you. It’s your voice. On the other hand, if it’s an autobiography written by someone other than the person involved, well…it can’t very well be first-person, now can it? Then again, the creative person…

When it comes to fiction, I just don’t like first-person. Period. However, I can’t tell anyone not to write that way. I’m not you or them. I’m just not going to buy that book. When I teach about point of view, though, I don’t recommend it because it’s too limiting in scope. However, that’s up to you, the author and what you’re trying to accomplish. You can still write first-person if you want. Plenty of books sell like hotcakes in first. There you go.

Now, present-tense. This is something that drives me nuts! I hate it! Why? Ever since I first encountered it decades ago, before I even became a writer, it was something that just bugged me to no end. It made me feel like the author was trying to rush me. The author was trying to push me forward against my will. It was like, “Come on, let me show you.” “Come on, you got to see this!” From another aspect, the author was forcibly dragging me along in the story, whether I wanted to go or not.

People, I don’t like being rushed. I like to find out on my own and let the story carry me, not have the author push or pull me forward. Present tense feels forced, unnatural.

Once I became a writer and started learning the mechanics of the craft, it all clicked for me.

When I see a book in present-tense, I not only put it down, I almost throw it down!

Omniscient writing is another pet peeve. With omniscient, there is no point of view. Whoever happens to be speaking or acting is it, and there’s no one character driving the scene. “God” is driving everything and it’s impersonal. It’s all very telling and flat. This is one reason, I had such a hard time with Lord Of The Rings. The main characters (as in a cast of “thousands”) are whoever gets the most scene time. Often, the back blurb of the book names a key character or characters, but once you get deep into the book, you scratch your head and wonder where that character went. Often the main character just happens to be the one with the most paragraphs or dialogue or actions versus the one controlling the point of view.

Nowadays, what passes for omniscient, is really third person semi-deep which is just an orgy of head-hopping. It’s all over the place with a mix of omniscient, third person deep and no rudder, so to speak. It’s not truly omniscient and not truly pure third-person anything. It’s often whoever survives to the end.

MIXING POVS FOR EFFECT

One of my favorite authors just wrote another book in a series and I loved it. Now, over the past few novels, he’s let his outstanding and perfect third-person slip a little with brief bouts of minor head-hopping. It wasn’t enough to throw the book down, and the transitions were smooth enough that it didn’t jerk me out of the story. I wish he’d go back to the perfect no head-hopping, but this wasn’t too bothersome.

On the other hand, there were places he changed POV for specific effects.

Diary entries:

There were a few diary entries, written in first-person. Why? Well, why would you write a diary in third-person? If it’s you, you’re going to write in your own voice, right? It has to be in first-person.

Character Under the effects of a virus:

The individual is feeling the effects of a virus, so it’s present tense. I might have done it in past-tense, but the author used present-tense, which only worked because it was a short passage. By keeping this radical departure in POV short, it did not cause jarring with the rest of the story. Instead it emphasized the scene.

Background explanation of the story:

At the back of the book, something I’ll be doing for my Gold series, the voice changes to the author’s. This is author intrusion, first-person technical. The author explains the research and background of how the novel came about. Since the story has already ended, this isn’t jarring because the illusion has already been broken.

Now, if this was in the middle of the book, it would be a huge jarring error! However, it’s not because you, the reader, have already concluded the story. No harm, no foul.

SUMMARY

While I’m not a big fan of shifting POVs as a regular part of a story, using short snippets for effect, and I mean short snippets is okay.

If you’re doing something for effect, for a specific reason, it needs to be done so it isn’t jarring, so it doesn’t break the illusion and jerk the reader out of the story.

That’s the key.

Happy writing!

BURNED BY STEPHEN KING AGAIN

December 28, 2016

When will I ever learn? Every time I’ve ever picked up a horror novel endorsed by Stephen King, it’s totally sucked. Every single time.

This time, I thought it might be different.

King is known to love books with bummer endings. I despise books with bummer endings. While I was in the bookstore, I…no…let me give a bit of background first.

This book first appeared on the new book shelves as a hardback. When I spotted it, I go “Yeah, an icky bug book in hardback!” Seeing one of those is so rare, it’s like seeing a 1909SVDB penny in pocket change. I’m not kidding. Finding horror featured on the hardback shelves should’ve been a big clue right off the bat. First off, unless it’s either Stephen King himself, or Dean Koontz horror, you ain’t gonna see it. Period.

That’s just the way it is in icky bug (horror). They (King and Koontz) are almost the only ones “allowed” to publish horror in hardback, unless it’s self-published. Hah! Not a snowball’s chance in hell will you see it on a shelf in Barnes & Noble if it’s self-published, at least on a feature shelf. There are few rare examples, like I said, the 1909SVDB exceptions.

That brings me to this one. I was nonplussed. My alarm bells went off after I saw the title and back cover blurb. Why? A big old Stephen King endorsement on the front. Right away, I went to the back of the book to see if anyone survived. Sure enough, right in the last paragraph, it didn’t end well. So, I almost threw what could’ve been a good icky bug book back on the shelf. I restrained myself and set it on the shelf rather than risk damaging the merchandise.

Jump forward a year and I’m browsing the regular “general fiction” book shelves, where everything’s mass market and trade paperback. Here’s this book again. I recalled seeing it in hardback on the feature shelf the previous year. Next to it, I see another book by the same author. When I leafed through that one, I caught the same featured character, or at least one with the same name. Huh? Maybe that character never did die in the other one. Maybe, somehow, he managed to survive. If that’s the case, I could chance reading it and ignore King’s endorsement.

So…with that in mind, I bought the book.

Wrong move, Grasshopper.

I finished it, thank the Gods! The whole time, I so wanted to finish it just to get it overwith! OMG, as they say in shortspeak. This book did have a horror premise. In fact, it was full of gore, splatter in fact, but it was really nothing but a character study. It crawled, and not in a good way. The pacing was glacial. Remember me talking about making your story move? Remember me talking about flashbacks, super long diary entries? This guy did it all, and not in a good way.

The story was excruciating. It was literate horror with overlong descriptions and characterizations that went on and on and on and on. I found myself checking the bookmark just to see how many pages I still had to go. It was that bad. The only reason I suffered through the whole thing was that I paid for it and I also wanted to see if somehow, the ending redeemed itself. Unfortunately, and true to a Stephen King endorsement, no ceegar. It ended with a bummer and nothing redeeming whatsoever. The book was a total waste of time and money. It ripped me off.

Folks, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. Your job as an author is not to torture your readers!

No wonder, as an icky bug novel it made the hardback feature shelf and wasn’t a King or Koontz novel. It was literary horror. In other words, it sucked! Why in the world would the big six ever put a good icky bug novel that was actually fun to read on the shelves? Or, didn’t bury one that didn’t totally suck on the back shelves and not even feature it on the new paperback shelves, like they usually do! You know, sneak it out there so you have to search for it among the thousands of older books? I can’t even count how many times I’ve found my icky bug by accident because they won’t even feature it on the new paperback rack.

After all, that’s what they usually do with any horror story that’s the least bit fun or has a socially redeeming or uplifting plot. Of course, unless you’re either King or Koontz.

            But nooo. They have to feature crap like this King-endorsed piece of literary boredom and give horror a bad name.

So, for those of you that write icky bug (horror) like me, be prepared. You certainly have your work cut out for you. More than likely, you’ll be lucky to get a small publisher or have to self-publish. I only ask that you have high standards with your writing.

Speaking of which…

Happy writing!

POINT OF VIEW (POV) – A DIFFERENT WAY TO LOOK AT IT

December 21, 2016

NOTE: I originally posted this article back in 2012. I’ll be presenting this at the Clark County library on Wednesday, 21 December 2016, so I thought it would be good to repost and revamp it for the event.

At a writer’s group meeting, a discussion came up about author intrusion. Our own Gregory Kompes came up with an article that he posted on the Henderson Writer’s Group Facebook page that explained it very well. It inspired me to beat this dead horse a bit more since I developed a presentation on POV and presented it to the group (in 2012). I was trying to think of a way to visualize POV for the audience rather than just give the explanations I’ve already gone over in several past articles.

How to do that?

Since we’d talked about the fantasy genre, it reminded me of a brainstorm I had during that year’s Las Vegas Writer’s Conference. The gist of it was that a good way to visualize POV would be with computer gaming. I know some of you out there have never seen a computer game. I won’t mention any names here, but even you might have grandchildren and have glanced over their shoulders. If not, ask them after reading this and you’ll figure it out.

The vast majority of computer games come in two styles. They’re first-person and third-person. Sound familiar? Can you apply that to POV?

In a first-person computer game, the camera shows everything through the eyes of the character you’re playing in the game. It’s as if you’re standing there. If a monster is behind a rock, you can’t see it. If there’s a room behind a door, or a hall, a cave or a deep chasm, you won’t know until you open that door.

You’re seeing everything through the eyes of the character. There’s a big difference though. In a computer game, there’s no feeling in the game itself. All of that feeling is still within you, the player. Therefore, the perspective of what’s seen is first-person as well as the thoughts (you the player).

Now how about third-person games? For some reason, which I don’t understand, they’re far more popular than first-person games. In a third-person game, the camera view is omniscient. The camera is above and behind the character, looking down over the character’s shoulder. Often, the player (you) can see ahead well before the character can actually see the dangers or treasures. The player can see that monster hiding behind a rock long before the character, they can often see what’s behind that door, or guess long before the character (depending on the style of game). The player can anticipate things that a first-person player cannot.

Does this compare to a third-person narrative in writing? It turns out, kind of. A third-person game compares to a limited omniscient POV at best (since the player can only know so much since they didn’t design the game), or at worst, massive author intrusion! Yeah, that’s right, the author, or God, knows all ahead of time and can spoil things for the reader by dropping clues and spoiling the fun. Like a first-person game, it’s third-person perspective only and not thought, which is what’s needed for first or third-person narrative in a story. Big difference.

When people hear me ranting about how much I hate first-person fiction yet I love first-person computer games, they wonder why. Now you have the explanation. As you can see, there is no comparison. There’s a big difference between these apples and oranges!

After thinking about this more carefully, I realized the visualization for my POV presentation was flawed and at first I thought it wouldn’t work. After I thought about it, I realized I still could visualize it using cameras. When I created my presentation, I was able to use cameras to visualize first and third and even second-person. However, the thought processes had to be explained.

In first-person, the viewfinder of the camera is through the eyes of the character. The character controls where the camera points. All the thoughts and feelings are conveyed through that camera viewfinder and the character aims the camera and controls all the thoughts and feelings. This is characterized by “I” and “me” and “my” words.

In third-person, the camera sits above the scene at an isometric/panoptic view. It’s controlled by the POV character. However, he or she isn’t looking through the viewfinder. They’re merely the focus of the camera. It can be aiming anywhere within the area as long as it’s somewhere the POV character can physically be part of. The scene is controlled by the thoughts and feelings of the POV character as well with words such as “he” and “she” and character names.

I also go into head-hopping, omniscient, author intrusion and tenses.

Whether I explained it well or not, my slide presentation is more explicit. When I presented it to the group a few years ago, I got plenty of positive feedback for the visualization.

We’ll see how well it goes tomorrow night.

Happy writing!

USING CONTRACTIONS

December 14, 2016

I’ve probably talked about this in pieces before, but I want to consolidate it all into one article for you.

Contractions.

Though there are no specific rules in fiction, there are some general guidelines one should follow for the use of contractions for consistency.

IN SPEECH-DIALOGUE

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

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.

DISTINCTIONS

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.

Get it?

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.

SUMMARY

By keeping contractions where they belong, you keep your prose clean.

Happy writing!