The last book of Regency romance I read was authored by one of the best-selling New York published writers in the world. Her romances are legendary, she's created dozens of characters, two or three series, and has hit the #1 spot more times than I care to count.
I hated that book.
The plot was flimsy, the main character was only interested in getting her man into bed, and the sex was...well, let's just say I skipped over that part. (If you've read one sex scene, you've read them all.) But the one thing that peeved me off to no end was that the author used contractions in her dialogue.
Can't Wasn't Don't Didn't Doesn't Shouldn't Wouldn't I'd We'd I'll You'll etc etc
Were not in much use by the aristocracy until the late 1830's. It seems they thought "proper" English kept them apart from the lower classes. And even though my etymological dictionary said that most of these words were being used from the 18th century, you will find, only the "lower classes" used "cant", or contractions.
Surprisingly, in digging into this research, the use of contractions originally started with publishers, newspaper men, and printing press operators. In order to fit so many words to a line, so many lines to a page, they decided to form contractions of these particular certain words. (There is a website to back me up on this, but I've lost it. It has a really funny name like WordSplunk dot com or something like that. If I ever find it again, I'll put it on my sidebar.)
Now some readers think that my non-use of contractions makes the story stilted and hard to read. And I say to them -- If you want a hard read, try Jane Austen. No contractions there. However, if you're going to write about 1811, you need to speak like you're in 1811 if you have dialogue in your book. No two ways around it.
There is one caveat to that statement however. None of us were living in 1811 so we can't really know how they actually spoke. All we have are letters and writings of the time. And if that is any indication of the language then, for me, there are no contractions in my stories. (Or very very few. I have been known to use You'll and I've on occasion.)
So, any word nerds out there? Do you think historical dialogue should be with or without contractions?
Anne Gallagher (c) 2013