Let me start by saying Miss Williams was one of my favorite teachers in high school. I had her for English my junior year and creative writing my senior year. She taught me many things about writing that I still remember and use on a daily basis. The problem is that she taught me one thing I wish I could forget: her personal philosophy on the effective use of contractions.
That is right. (Or at least that is how she taught me to write this sentence.)
I wrote a term paper for her class. When she handed back the graded paper, every contraction was circled with a note: lazy writers use contractions. So from that point forward (wanting to get good grades, of course), I made myself write with nary a “don’t,” “can’t,” “wouldn’t” or “shouldn’t.” I would not use “wouldn’t,” could not use “couldn’t” and did not use “didn’t.”
This is all fine and dandy when writing formally. I am sure the Declaration of Independence would not seem so fantastic when it chews out King George III if they kept saying “he’s” done this or that instead of “he has.”
But then I started writing my novel. And when reading back my dialogue, I had no contractions. How many people do you know speak that way, with no contractions? I do not know of any. (See, should be “don’t.” In my head it’s “don’t,” but when I type, it comes out do not.)
So when I finish my novel, I will have to do a search and replace to remove the “have nots” from the dialogue, but I am, or should I say—I’m getting better. Miss Williams, can you forgive me?