Contractions - use or not?

Hey guys/gals, I'm wondering whether it is better to use contractions like "I'm" and "Can't" or write it out in full like "I am" and "Cannot". I've asked some people and the general opinion seems to be divided, with half telling me that contractions should be used , and the other half saying the opposite. What do you guys/gals think?

It depends.

If it's in dialogue, it depends on the character. Outside of dialogue, it depends on the tone and/or viewpoint. The less contractions you use, the more formal the tone. Try reading the piece out loud to see how it sounds.

I've never heard this question asked outside of accepted formal essay styles. Dary's got it right about how casual or not it'll sound, but even more than that, what are you trying to write? What period? What fluency in English? What characters and statuses and ages and personalities? That's all going to impact your punctuation and use of slang in dialogue (and narrative, particularly if you're speaking from a character's POV).

Play around with it, and rather than generalize whether you can use or not use them exclusively, figure out whether a specific personality in a specific context SHOULD be speaking in such-and-such a way. How you talk to your mom isn't how you talk to a stranger, and how you talk to an angry drunk isn't how you talk to the queen.

Have you tried hitting up the /r/writing and /r/grammar subreddits? You've got a lot of technical questions, and while this place definitely has its eye on writing, you don't seem too focused on things particular to a serial yet. You'd probably find a lot of what you're looking for if you hit up those places first. :)

Whyyyy do I sound so dry on forums these days? D:

To go along with the others, It definitely depends on how formal you want to sound. From a personal point of view, assuming you are writing a serial, I would rather read something with contractions. In American English, we speak 90% of the time with contractions and that means it flows easier when reading with contractions. The best way to understand what works is to go out into the world of serials and read them. Read the successful serials and see how they use contractions. I am still growing leaps and bounds as a writer and one of the biggest tools for me has been reading other writer's work.

I generally don't use contractions if I'm writing in 3rd person narration. It gives the narration a more formal structure that distinguishes it from the dialogue. If I'm writing in 1st person, then it depends on the character, but generally I will use contractions.

Remember that you're going to be writing as people talk. Some people might be biased against certain contractions as well, as a cultural thing. I ain't sure how many of y'all are like that yourselves. Plus, since languages are usually taught more formally, I'm fairly sure you'll have people for whom English is a second language speak with fewer of them. Most of the time. Maybe.

As for why period matters, let's not forget some older, forgotten contractions like noot instead of knows not, thilke for the ilke, and sit for sitteth. Or even the hits of the Early Middle English period like 'twill and mayn't (though we also got can't, don't, shan't and won't from that time period, apparently).

Most importantly, just give your story a go at being written. As you write, you'll figure out your own preferences for writing, as far as contractions, tone, structure, and so on. It is, to sound a bit flowery, how you find your voice. It's not something you plan out most of the time, unless you're like me and copy someone else's writing style for an April Fool's thing. We all have our tics. Now go out there, defy your primate ancestors, and find your own tics!

I always assumed this issue arose with just formal writing and technical writing. For creative writing, it would depend on tone, character voice, and story setting. One of the hardest things I had to learn was to drop the "essay voice" in my writing. Now concerning the narration I may or may not use contractions. With my current work I'm testing out using contraction in my 3rd person narration and not just the dialogue. As for 1st person, depends entirely on the character. Some are a little more formal than other.