Contractions in story writing.

Of course not – and there’s nothing inhereently evil with the passive, used sparingly and to proper effect. It’s merely that both copulas and passive-voice sentences are generally signs of relatively weak writing when used otherthan in extreme moderation. And the common property of copulas and the passive is that they share use of “to be” (or its conjugated forms).

First, thanks for a good description and advice.

Second, if I may, a hijack: in certain scenes, I want to use the passive voice to describe the characters feeling that things are happening to him, or not reveal who’s observing what’s going on, that kind of thing. Is the passive voice correct for these instances, or should I avoid it?

Yes, thank you, very insightful.

I strongly agree, though only from a laymen’s perspective. I noticed this advice on several different “tips on writing for bad fiction writers” essays on the Internet, and when I went and looked at some of my favourite, successful fiction authors, like J.K. Rowling and Terry Pratchett, it’s quite true: many times, no verbs at all, you recognize who says what by their special style; next up, variations of “he said/ Carrot said”. Synonyms for “said” were very rare, usually, it was shouting, whispering etc. that were really different from “speaking” (And even then, ALL CAPS is shouting without additional info).

I think synonyms for “said” stand out much more strongly than repetitions of “said.” And 99% of the time, there’s no reason for it. Why would anyone right “Tom replied”? Of course he’s replying; that’s obvious in the order of the dialogue. (Unless of course what he’s replying to is implied rather than stated.) I see dialogue attributions as a simple tool for a specific purpose, and I don’t try to turn them into works of art anymore than I would a hammer.

I am a professional writer (in academe), and this is my take on these hot-button issues that my colleagues often discuss. In formal writing, you should never use contractions. Contractions are simply a shortcut, and they make your professional work look sloppy and poorly edited. In less formal work or when using dialogue, contractions are acceptable, and they would be nearly necessary if you are writing in a dialect or when using slang.

The issues surrounding passive voice and “to be” you can thank Strunk and White’s Elements of Style (1918) for. This outdated, hypocritical text has created panic attacks for generations of students who worry–in my opinion needlessly–over a style manual that was obsolete and redundant nearly as soon as it was printed. There’s a great article from the Chronicle of Higher Education, let me see if I can find it: I got a kick out of a couple of years back that might help to clear up some of these grammatical issues.