The blurry lines of opinion and advice

When I write I’m inconsistent. I use filter words, incorrect grammar, typos, dialog and action tags, wordiness and contractions. These things and more, are all over the map. It causes flow issues for the reader. That’s okay, well not the flow issue, but the mistakes or “lazy” writing are there. If I spent every second I’m writing worrying about every technical aspect of writing I’d never get anything done. I would stress out, get anxious, panic and most likely stop enjoying writing altogether.

I’m not interested in gumming up my creative process with rules etc. etc. etc., blah, blah, blah.  That’s not to say they aren’t there, and that I don’t employ them while writing, I just don’t care.

I say this because I used to stress out before I wrote the book. I can’t write as real authors, I don’t know what to do to make it perfect. I didn’t, it was true. Then I didn’t care, I don’t need to do it their way. I wrote and wrote and when I was done, I revised and edited, learned and edited again.

One teensy little question sent me on a whirlwind research tour. Contractions. To use them or not? Well the answer to that was not simple at first. Everyone everywhere seemed to have an opinion and it was all divided. This, believe it or not, I found to be a hot topic with serious emotional/opinionated response in writers. No serious writer would ever use them, no modern self-respecting writer would not. And back and forth and back and forth, until I still had no idea.

There comes a time when the line between an opinion and advice becomes blurred. It’s called peer pressure, when someone passes off their opinion as a rule.

So, I asked an expert, an author and ex literary agent. He would know and he did.
“It doesn’t matter as long as you are consistent and it reads well.”
I wasn’t sure. “But what if the literary agent is anti-contractions?”
“Then they will still read the value of your work and if they want to represent you, they will suggest you take them out. You still don’t have to. It’s your book.”

Talk about a load off my back. It’s not as set in stone as I thought. As long as I’m flexible and not super attached it’s all good. Here is what I learned from my epic journey in the wonderful research world of, to contract or not to contract.

  1. Be consistent in your usage.
  2. Consistent doesn’t mean always or every time. It means consistent to your voice and how you write or want a character to speak.
  3. As long as the voice of your writing is good (Almost)nobody will notice
  4. Write how you want not how others tell you to
  5. If you don’t use contractions ever, because you are a die-hard anti, or took a die-hard’s advice, be consistent
  6. If you use them only in dialogue and never out, never use a contraction out of dialogue
  7. If you write how you talk and how most of the world is comfortable and contract within and out of dialog, be consistent to your voice. Whether you use: Do not do that or don’t do that. It will depend on how you want the sentence to sound, be read and or how the character talks.
  8. Don’t sacrifice your style or voice for word count.

There I think that’s it. BTW a lot of books I read use contractions when it works for their style.

My advice about contractions.
When someone gives you a version of their golden rule, don’t jump on board immediately. Take the time to find out the other side of that set in stone opinion.  Follow your instinct. It’s your writing not theirs.

-Sheryl

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13 thoughts on “The blurry lines of opinion and advice

  1. There are lots of “rules” in writing. However most of them are guidelines. For every rule you can probably find a well-known and respected work that breaks said rule. Interestingly enough, I’ve never come across a “contraction rule,” except for essays and formal writing.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Great post as usual, some people look for perfection, but I have to write without thinking too much, that’s why it flows…. Also what I don’t think are my best posts usually get more likes. Keep inspiring your good at it 😀

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Number 8–Some people are so obsessed with it. No, I am obsessed with pages. I became that way when I wrote a 32 page chapter and hold all other chapters to that one. 😅 Also, I found something I hate not to write about so I love writing but right now I’m sick and therefore inconsistent. But thank you for all the incredible advice. I love it. I also have ADHD, so reading your advice helps.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Good topic. I’ve found that my use of contraction is, as you mentioned, dependent on the voice of the character or the mood of the particular piece I’m writing. It gets to be kind of instinctual after a while but still something I have to be aware of. Thanks Sheryl.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Well…you just wrote a really worthwhile post! I write exactly like I talk. Without a doubt, I want the reader to feel like we are having a conversation. To me, we are talking back and forth! When I wrote feature stories or straight news or advertising copy, I had to follow the guidelines…every word and every sentence. After our children were born and I decided to teach school, I saw the light. If a child was trying to find voice and write down their personal thoughts, there was no way that I could add on the pressure of strict rules. Therefore, I write what I feel and how I feel in whatever form I think works for me! I am a rule jumper! I talk a lot…so I wrote a lot!!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I’ve personally never seen any hatred for contractions (save for maybe an English teacher or two) but I always thought it depended on the pacing you wanted for a scene. I think some sentences flow better with a contraction than without. I mean, they don’t have as NEAR a negative effect as adverbs. But that is a different story…

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Vonnegut hated semi-colons; he said they were only good for proving you’d been to college.

    Cormac McCarthy appears to hate punctuation in general.

    And I’ve been told you can’t start a sentence with “And”.

    They say you shouldn’t use a fragment as a complete sentence but that happens too. All the time.

    I’ve concluded that rules are for mathematicians.

    Liked by 2 people

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