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To contract or not contract

What makes a writer decide not to use contractions? Especially in a story written in first person, they seem like a natural choice to make it sound more like a person speaking.

In Borne, the narrator doesn’t contract. Saying ‘could not’ and ‘can not’ and ‘did not’ etc, isn’t exactly distracting, but I notice it now and then and think ‘why is she talking like that?’ Though, it’s only in the narration, not in the dialogue…

Why not to use contractions? Other than the tired, eye-rolly reason of trying to signify that the character is alien or robot.

There must be a reason. I noticed that Octavia E. Butler didn’t use contractions much in her novels either, though they were in 3rd person so I didn’t think much about it, just a stylistic choice. But when it’s a person supposedly talking to you, in the first person, it seems a bit strange.

I wonder what it means either way, and how/why an author would make that choice…


When your viewpoint character is the least interesting character in the story, this might be a problem.

I’d rather read about Borne. I’d rather read about Wick. I’d rather read about ‘the Magician.’ I’d rather read about Morde the giant bear. I’d rather read about the mysterious scientists in the Company building. I’d rather read about any of the random scavengers she encounters in the wasteland.

I don’t know anything about Rachel, other than she had a nice dinner once when she was a child, and now lives in a wasteland. That’s the one bit of backstory I’ve got. I don’t know what her dreams or desires are, I don’t know what her motivation is. She’s just a pair of eyes for me to see the world through.

I don’t know why she became so obsessed with this alien blob creature thing. (did she lose a child and he’s a replacement? Did she always want a child but couldn’t have one?) But I guess I’ll try to accept it. But now Borne has left the picture, and she’s wandering around aimlessly feeling empty. The story feels that way too. Wandering aimlessly, nothing happening seems to matter to the character, or to me. Is this just filler?

When the character doesn’t want or fear anything it’s hard for me to care.

Painfully obvious metaphors

Borne is a child. The person who found Borne feels like a mother to ‘him’, and is raising him with the man she lives with. They argue about Borne a lot like parents in a broken home might. Borne doesn’t know about the world or himself and gets hurt because of his innocence, and then loses that innocence when he leaves home to try to be his own person, just like a child does eventually. It’s all painfully obvious and surface level.

The weird technology and crazy bear creatures feel like an attempted distraction from this simplistic theme.

So far this story seems thin somehow, compared to VanderMeer’s other books. Perhaps it is the character who is telling it. She seems to jerk back and forth between a simplistic, naive, cute view of things, and an elegant poetic prose description of the world. The narrator takes a lot of the punch out of these descriptions with the light tone she uses throughout. No fault of the author there, though.

I’m almost finished and am hoping the climax will make up for the so far mediocre story.

Writing faster

Ten thousand words on the new project (the one I started, then stopped, then–guess what–started again) in a bit more than a month since I started it. This is pretty slow to be sure, but it’s much faster than the glacial pace I crawled at for the first part of my previous novel, which took me around nine months to write the first 20k words.

I suspect, as I near the end and everything that happens becomes more certain, I’ll go faster and faster.

I don’t think I’ll ever be a fast writer, but I can be faster!

Yes, but / No, and

I’ve heard this many times, and I think it’s a really cool way to decide what happens next in your story. Every time you’re character encounters a problem, you ask yourself if they overcome it. But the answer should not just be yes, or no and move on–instead it should be a yes, BUT or a no, AND.

Overly simple example:

Your character is in a room and wants to leave. She tries opening the door to leave.

Does she succeed?

Instead of yes, she opens the door and leaves, it should be yes BUT something. Such as, yes she opens the door and leaves but there is a hoard of mutants on the other side of the door.. or her mother in-law, or her ex-boyfriend, or any other not so good thing you can think of.

Instead of  no, she can’t open the door and moves on to try a window, it should be no AND something even worse. For example no, she can’t get the door open and the knob is scalding hot and burns her hand, or the knob falls off completely, or the room begins filling with water, or her mother in-law steps out of the closet…

It’s a neat way to move your story forward in a more interesting way. Try it! Answer every yes/no question instead with yes, BUT / no, AND.

Name one

Name a first person novel where the character isn’t annoying, stupid, or an asshole–I’d like to read it.

Maybe it’s because people never see their own faults, I suppose that’s realistic but it’s still annoying.

(almost) Every novel I’ve read in first person the character does irrational, stupid, or asshole-ish things, and never acknowledges it or suffers any consequences for it.

It’s very frustrating.

I get that when a person is telling their own story, they are never going to make themselves the bad-guy, but it’s really not as much fun to read as an objective account of things.

Anyway.  Just some complaining…