Emma Burke: to Contract, or not to Contract

ARCHETYPE PB“Voices articulate words—No, we don’t need her anymore; put her with the others—and I struggle to make sense of them to no avail. I know what they say is important. So important. Vital. Yet all meaning flashes through the vast darkness of my mind, fleeting streaks of lightning. Alluring, coaxing, but gone before I can decipher patterns in the chaos.”

If there’s one common theme to most of the reviews and blog posts out there for ARCHETYPE & PROTOTYPE, it’s that Emma doesn’t use contractions.

Don’t be alarmed, but… I’m not a fan of this either. For completely different reasons. One being…I’ve used six contracted words in this post already, and we’ve (7) only just begun. Writing two entire novels without contractions (the exception being the dialogue for all other characters) was insanely hard. Unless you’ve tried this and know, you have no idea. Try guessing, then increase that by a million.

I’d go through and answer every question posed about this, but then you’d probably catch on to the fact that I’m a total stalker. No, not really. Only sometimes. Just a little.

What? I get bored.

So here’s WHY I chose to go contraction-less. I listened to the voice in my head. It’s as simple as that. I like to think all my characters have their own distinct voice, and Emma’s just one example of how different they sound in my head. Emma is soft spoken, very sweet sounding actually, and speaks carefully. Slowly.

“You are my wife,” he tells me.

I study his lips while they frame the words. He has a lovely mouth and I reach out to touch it often, but he never lets me. He says I must focus on one thing at a time.

“I am your wife,” I say carefully, and the words sound right, so I smile.

In the beginning, the voice came to me this way, and it was natural. I didn’t think about it at all for pages and pages. I remember getting to a point and sitting bolt upright with the realization that I hadn’t used a single contracted word for Emma’s voice. And I loved it. I thought, “Man, that’s pretty darn clever, Misty!” I’m all “It’s a clue!” and it sort of is. But really it’s because she woke up and literally had to relearn to speak.

(What’s the age a child finally learns to use contractions? Anyone? My kid is four, and still doesn’t contract. I’m sure it’s different for every kid, but… I’m just saying. A&P spans two years.)

I struggled after that with when to have Emma start contracting. First, it was going to be a quarter of the way through. Then it was the halfway mark. Then I actually did write the entire last quarter with contractions. Want to know what happened?

Her voice changed.

I panicked at that point, because she wasn’t the same character anymore. She was “Emma 1.0” through and through, and I didn’t want that. The plan was never to have her revert back to her previous self. To do that, she’d have to unlearn everything she’d just gone through, and wouldn’t her months spent in ARCHETYPE have redefined her in some way? For me, the answer was obvious. YES. They absolutely had.

Then PROTOTYPE came along, and of course I’m struggling with the same question. To contract, or not to contract? A few pages in, I was all over those contractions. I’m telling myself that a year and a half has passed, so of course Emma’s learned to use them by now. Except the woman in my head–that already wasn’t coming to me as easily as she had in ARCHETYPE–spoke hard and fast. She didn’t sound sweet, she sounded bitter. She was thoughtless.

(I like to call her my “go-to” voice when the characters aren’t talking to me. Explaining that would take a whole other blog post.)

That’s how Emma ended up contraction-free in PROTOTYPE. It wasn’t a product of “bad writing” or “lazy writing” (<–that one makes me laugh right out loud) or to annoy everyone. The logical writer in me knew going in that I could possibly be sacrificing readers, and she was right. But sacrificing that voice would have killed the story I was trying to tell, and it was an essential brush stroke to this entire canvas.

“No, Emma.”

He lifts his head, and eyes the color of seawater stare back at me. I know this color because it is in a large photograph in my room. They tell me the photograph is of the sea before, but they do not tell me before what.

“I do not understand,” I say.

He leans back in his chair and combs hair away from his face with long, slender fingers. The dark strands slick back and hold in their usual style. “You’re repeating my words only to please me.”

He turns his head and squints into the sun shining through the windows. With an elbow propped on the chair’s arm, he raises a hand to his chin and massages his jaw.

Leaning forward, I attempt to catch his gaze with my own. “This is what you wanted,” I whisper.

Those beautiful eyes turn my way and he stops rubbing his chin, still saying nothing. He only watches me in agonizing silence. Then, abruptly, he stands and buttons the front of his suit jacket. It is dark blue today. I like this color on him.

Bending over me, he presses a whisper-soft kiss to my temple. “One day you will say it and believe it.”

He leaves the room and now I understand. I must learn about this word “wife.”