This is jarring to read, it interrupts the flow of the story, and it makes the writing seem choppy. Fiction is supposed to sound natural, and when we speak, we use contractions. Here are some examples from my book Wayward Soul. Read them out loud and see which example sounds better:
A - Please do not go to work. Stay here. Stay safe.
B - Please don’t go to work. Stay here. Stay safe.
A - “Well, we cannot have that, Lieutenant Nash.”
B - “Well, we can’t have that, Lieutenant Nash.”
A - Zanna took his face in her hands. “No, you did not scare me at all.”
B - Zanna took his face in her hands. “No, you didn’t scare me at all.”
A - “Please do not cry. I hate it when you cry. I was a jerk.”
B - “Please don’t cry. I hate it when you cry. I was a jerk.”
Even if you read these examples to yourself, the sentences that don’t have contractions probably felt awkward. The others, more natural and easier to follow. I guarantee this small change will make a world of difference in your manuscript.
On the other side of the coin, sometimes it’s better not to use a contraction. For instance, if you want to add emphasis like in this example from my short story The Ballad of Brenda and Willard:
A - “I cannot believe that you care so little about me that you don’t even remember our anniversary. How dare you. Our anniversary is not March tenth.”
B - “I can’t believe that you care so little about me that you don’t even remember our anniversary. How dare you. Our anniversary isn’t March tenth.”
Either scenario above would work, however example A clearly helps show the character’s emotion and anger just a tad better. This is part of developing your voice as a writer. Just don’t overdo it.
No matter how many times you edit your manuscript, you’ll likely miss some of these. The best way to find them, and avoid spending hours reading and re-reading your story, is to use FIND and REPLACE feature in your word processing program like this:
Whala! Simple. Easy. You can repeat this process to fix any words that should be contracted.
Another alternative is to just use the Find function and search for the word NOT, for example, then click the Reading Highlight button and Highlight all.
This is the quickest way to find words that should be turned into contractions, but it’s certainly not the easiest way to fix them because once you click in the document and make a change, the highlights disappear and you have to repeat the process. However, this will without a doubt ensure you haven’t missed anything. So my advice is to use the table below to help you figure out which words should be contracted, use the Find/Replace function to fix them, and then use the Find function with Highlight to double check yourself.
This list isn’t all inclusive and there may still be some contractions that you miss, but just this one change will make your manuscript much better and more appealing to those publishers when you send it outJ