I believe if you use contractions in a manuscript, consistency demands using them in both dialog and narrative. A fellow writer was told by an editor to use contractions in dialog but not narrative. I’ve scoured CMS but can find no direction. Can you offer some wisdom?
Susan’s question triggered a question of my own. Not for Susan, but for her friend’s editor: Why?
Why allow contractions in dialog, but forbid them in narrative?
As I’ve written elsewhere, contractions have a long and noble history, and I have no objection to seeing them used everywhere, including formal business and legal documents. Why not in novels, in both dialog and narrative?
William Zinsser likes contractions. “Your style will be warmer and truer to your personality,” he writes in On Writing Well, “if you use contractions like ‘I’ll’ and ‘won’t’ and ‘can’t’ when they fit comfortably into what you’re writing.”
Patricia T. O’Conner agrees. In Woe is I: The Grammarphobe’s Guide to Better English in Plain English, she asks “Isn’t it time we admitted that the contraction has earned its place in the sun? It has all the qualities we admire in language: it’s handy, succinct, and economical, and everybody knows what it means.”
Not content to leave it at that, I polled a random sampling of fiction. Dean Koontz uses contractions. Ray Bradbury uses contractions. Jeffrey Overstreet, contractions. W. Dale Cramer, contractions.
Susan, I can think of no reason to allow contractions in dialog, but forbid them in narrative. Naturally, if you’re dealing with the set style of a particular publishing house, you have to adhere to that style.
But if I were in that situation, I would certainly ask my editor that question: “Why?”