We've all heard of contractions--I'm, you've, she'd, can't, isn't, etc. You use them every day when you're speaking, but do you use them correctly when you're writing?
Rule #1: Use contractions in narrative. They help with flow, tighten the writing, and prevent pulling the reader out of the story with awkward sentences.
(with contractions) Callum wasn't in the mood for more of Jane's shenanigans. He'd spent most of the night standing guard outside her quarters to be sure she didn't try to climb through the window. Why didn't she give up her ridiculous escape plans?
(without contractions) Callum was not in the mood for more of Jane's shenanigans. He had spent most of the night standing guard outside her quarters to be sure she did not try to climb through the window. Why did she not give up her ridiculous escape plans?
Rule #2: Use contractions in dialogue (exceptions--emphasis, specific time periods, and dialects. In general, we speak using contractions. Make dialogue realistic by writing it as the character would speak.
(normal dialogue) Callum growled and perched his fists on his hips. "You're coming with me whether you like it or not."
(with emphasis) Jane's temper flared. "I will not!"
(time period/dialect) "You will, lass. 'Tis almost dark, and the woods are not safe."
Yes, I threw in a time period/dialect contraction. :) "'Tis" replaces "it's" in some dialects of modern English as well as middle and renaissance English. Do your research on this one! English Through the Ages by William Brohaugh is an excellent resource for word use dates.
Rule #3: Use contractions in internal dialogue. Internal dialogue is treated the same as spoken dialogue. Follow the same rules!
(normal internal dialogue) She's going to get us both killed.
(with emphasis) I will not ever marry!
(time period/dialect) 'Twill take a miracle to convince the lass I'm trying to protect her.
Contractions may seem like a minor issue, but the little things that need fixing in a manuscript add up and can make the difference between an excellent contest score and a good one or an offer and a rejection. I'm also a fan of fewer edits! :)
Romance...With A Kick!