Ask an editor: Contractions in a novel manuscript

Writing, Clear and Simple

Susan writes:

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…

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