Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Contractions in Dialogue

Popping in very quickly as today I have a day off ‘real’ work to do what I like to think of as my personal real work – work on my novel. As per, sometimes my body forgets that these days off are not proper days off and likes instead to lie about slovenly and watch random television. I have to bribe it with biscuits to sit here and write/redraft. And today would be the day when I have no chocolate whatsoever and am reduced to eating biscuits from the back of the bread bin. Yup, the Biscuits That Taste Forgot.

I still eat them though.

Today one of the things I am checking within my novel is the dialogue. What I am looking out for is things like ‘I am’ rather than ‘I’m’ – when speaking, unless there is a reason to say it precisely, mostly folk would use a contraction and say ‘I’m taking the dog for a walk’ rather than ‘I am taking the dog for a walk’. The latter brings a whole new stress to the tone of the dialogue – if you say it out loud it sounds like the person speaking is highly exasperated with the person asking, i.e.

Parent (asking even though is watching teenage son fixing dog leash to dog): What are you doing?
Teenage son: I am taking the dog for a walk. (Optional ‘durr’ on the end.)

It is more natural to use contractions within dialogue – it’s for it is, I’m for I am, that’s for that is, etc. I’m taking advantage of a quiet house to declaim my dialogue to the cats (they are thrilled) so I can listen to my speech. The trick is reading aloud exactly what I have written and not what I ‘think’ I have written!


Unknown said...

Great advice. Same goes for the narrative, too. It's part of the voice. ;)

Eliza said...

I'm just trying to visualise your cats sitting to attention while you read, mine would just disappear through the cat flap :-)

Southpaw said...

Ah yes, the old reading what you actually wrote trick. I hope your cats enjoy it.

Joanna St. James said...

Well have fun with it, and you have got some nice kitties helping you out.

Golden Eagle said...
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Golden Eagle said...

It's hard to read what you've actually written; when it's your own words, the mind usually reads it as what you meant to say, instead of what it actually is.

Talli Roland said...

Reading aloud always helps! I tend to get lazy with it, so quite often I use the MS Word narrator to do it.

Good luck with revisions!

Giles Hash said...

Something to keep in mind with contractions is that people who are lying will often use full words instead of contractions. It helps to emphasize what they're saying, and when they're making up a lie, it gives their brain the opportunity to think through their sentences.

There's some cool research out there by Dr. Elkman that could give better explanations than I just gave :)

Old Kitty said...

Great advice - thanks! I guess dialogue should flow and sound like a proper conversation one would hear on a train journey or cafe - not that I listen in or anything or am nosey and take down notes...ahem!.

I hope you get some chocolate soon!!!

Take care

Giles Hash said...

Terribly sorry, I made a mistake. It's Dr. Ekman, not Elkman. :)

Maria Zannini said...

I had the opposite problem with my last novel. I had a character where English was not his first language.

(English was not my first language so I could relate. :grin:)

The character didn't yet understand the concept of contractions and I had to go in and take them out if I put them during the first draft.

Trish and Rob MacGregor said...

I usually read dialogue aloud. It's only then that you really get a sense about whether your characters sound like real people.

Thanks for dropping by our blog!

Lisa_Gibson said...

Ooo, thanks for the reminder. Something I need to ensure as well. :)

penandpaints said...

What would we do without our cats to listen to our narrative?
I always wonder what they're thinking (I bet it's not very complimentary in my case!)
That's good advice about reading aloud.

mrsnesbitt said...

Dialogue was such an important aspect of my upbringing. My mum's childhood took place during the 2nd World War and it was not an affluent time - the family "just got on with it" and made light through the rich dialogue they exchanged.

Happy Frog and I said...

I always like to read out loud what I have written. It really does help iron out mistakes. Hope all is going well in terms of writing your novel. x

Unknown said...

I've come across so-called "experts" who demanded that authors *never* use contractions, even in dialogue. Needless to say, I couldn't disagree more. Dialogue needs to mimic the patterns of realistic speech, and, for better or worse, reality is the contraction.

Jayne said...

Hi Stina. Thank you! I like to exercise my ‘voice’ as much as I can. ;)

Hi Eliza. It’s more a snooze to attention, to be honest.

Hi Holly. It is a tricky thing, isn’t it? My brain likes trying to trip my eyes.

Hi Joanna. The kitties always help. At least, that is what they’d have me believe.

Hi Eagle. It is hard, isn’t it? I sometimes have to really stop and spell things out to make sure the words I have written match up with what I say.

Hi Talli. Ooo what is the MS Word narrator that you speak of? (I have turned into Yoda.) I don’t think I have that on mine, or perhaps it’s here and I don’t know where to look *scours Word* Good tip for when I find it – thanks!

Hi Giles. How interesting, thank you. Yes, psychology can really help intensify things like that. And thank you so much for popping back to give me the correct reference. I so appreciate it. :)

Jayne said...

Hi Old Kitty. Oh I am unabashed about eavesdropping on trains and buses! People shouldn’t speak so loud in public, is what I think. ;)

Hi Maria. I like it! Yes, the speech would tend to be more formal.

Hi Trish and Rob. I think dialogue absolutely has to be read aloud as only then can people spot the natural speech pattern, and, as you say, sound like real people!

Hi Lisa. Glad I helped!

Hi Penandpaints. Cats are fantastic listeners. They only interrupt when hungry. With my cats (The Little Puddings) that is about every time anyone walks into the kitchen. They are ever hopeful of a snack between mealtimes (as I am, to be honest).

Hi Mrs Nesbitt. That sounds a good upbringing to me.

Hi Happy Frog. Thank you! Happy ironing. ;)

Hi K.M. Weiland. Oh I think I would have to disagree with those experts as well, unless they were aiming for stilted formal dialogue? And yes, for better or for worse, people contract!

Hart Johnson said...

I had such a hard time with that exact thing. I publish scientifically where the contraction is leprosy. I can't EVER use CAN'T in that world. Yet in dialog, it's the norm. I catch some but thank MERLIN for first readers who also catch a bunch.

I hope you have a productive and fun writing weekend!

Karen Jones Gowen said...

I hope you enjoy your day off, too bad you don't have something besides stale biscuits to munch on while writing.

Unknown said...
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Unknown said...

Spot on with the advice. Always use contractions, unless you have a reason for your character to speak in full words, and read dialogue aloud to check for mistakes.

Caption Competition

Happy Dog said...

I humbly submit that reading EVERYTHING aloud has its benefits. A fellow English teacher friend of mine actually bought a bunch of PVC pipe fittings at right angles so that her students could sit in a full classroom and read oh-so-quietly to themselves whatever it is they had written. Picture a pipe of 2-inch diameter that somehow perfectly reaches from mouth to one's own ear. You can have 30 kids speaking so that only they can hear themselves. That's my next purchase for the classroom. Maybe I'll bring one home for myself, too!

Must mention that I officially fell in love with you during this post. Anyone who can find the joy and mystery and power in the significant difference between "I am" and "I'm" is my automatic friend.