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I've used "and/or" in my writings in the past, but not for fiction manuscripts. Is it acceptable to use this? It's internal narration in a character's head and intended to have a bit of morbid humor to it, but I don't know if I should avoid it all together or if it's okay to use.

Though the second guard complicated things, Fields was now out in the same room with Paul. And Fields was far more qualified for an escape attempt than Paul was. He planned to let Fields take the lead and try not to slow him down and/or get killed.

  • FWIW, I would use a long dash there: "...and try not to slow him down -- or get killed." To me, that reads more smoothly, and still has the morbid humor element you want. Even if you want to keep "and/or", I would still recommend a long dash there. It serves to separate the character's serious plans from his dark humorous aside. – dmm Apr 30 '15 at 15:15
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I would not recommend using and/or. There are a number of style guides and English references that severely criticize it. For example:

I'm sure there are others.

Rewording it is almost always simple, clear and easy to do. I would only use it if a character uses it regularly as part of their speech, otherwise, I would avoid it for the simple reason that, for me, it provides nothing of substantial benefit, but carries a number of negatives, particularly because I think readers may find it a little jarring and possibly confusing.

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  • Thank you! Style guides' recommendations is what I was looking for. – Nicole Apr 26 '15 at 21:08
  • Style guides often give good advice, but I recommend using caution and common sense when trying to apply them to fiction or informal writing. I think it's better to make an informal style sheet for projects like that. – Goodbye Stack Exchange Apr 27 '15 at 4:57
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Unlike Steven Drennon, I feel that in general "and/or" is not good writing, both in fiction and non-fiction.

While writing is not spoken language, it is generally intended to be read – by a "silent" reader, who, as studies have shown, will nevertheless usually subvocalize and stumble over "unspeakable", purely written constructs; by the author in a public reading; by a professional voice actor for an audio book.

While "and/or" is common in the convoluted styles of technical and business writing -- writing that many users of this site are probably intimately familiar with and which has distorted their natural feel for language --, it is not something that most people usually say.

The construct "and/or" hinders understanding in that the reader (or listener) has to think back on the previous passage and deconstruct the whole sentence and attempt to understand what the two parts being connected actually are, what the two versions of their connection are, and what it means that the author finds himself unable to decide wether the conjunction is additive ("and") or disjunctive ("or").

To take your example, the two versions of your sentence are:

... and try not to slow him down and get killed.

Here, getting killed is a consequence of being slowed down.

... and try not to slow him down or get killed.

Here, "or" lists a series of increasing alternatives ("you may win / have to pay one, two or [even] three hundred dollars").

As you can see, in your sentence the "and/or" does not mean "either A, or B, or (both A and B)", but "either (A leading to B), or (A or even A++)", which, in my opinion, isn't a very meaningful statement and a sure sign that you don't really know what you want to say here.

Therefore, in general, it is better to think about what the idea is that you want to express, and write it out in full sentences.

That said, of course there is experimental fiction writing or fiction writing that emulates non-fiction writing modes (such as internet slang) which utilizes glyphs ("#brokkoli", "Doing it Wrong™") spelling ("n00b"), non-narrative text ("imsorry.jpg"), or layout (such as tables or lists) that are not usually found in narrative fiction.

"and/or" might certainly be appropriate in such writing, especially if it is humorous and/or fits the character of the story's narrator, but even then you need to be sure that you use it where it makes sense and actually says what you think it does.

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    I both say and think "and/or" all the time. I pronounce it simply "and or". – Nicole Apr 26 '15 at 13:30
  • I guess it all depends on where you are from, but in my parts of Texas, it's not at all uncommon for people to use "and/or" in their dialogue. If it is used in a proper context, there would be nothing wrong with using it in writing. If it is used only one time in a 50,000 word story, then it would not be nearly as acceptable. – Steven Drennon Apr 27 '15 at 0:21
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    My answer is a bit longer than the small paragraphlet you all focus on. Good, you say "and/or" -- a usage that, I believe, is in turn informed by bad writing, but I accept that it feels speakable to you and have deleted that part of my answer. Please now also read the rest. It is still a bad construct as it forces the reader into a loop of going back over what he has already read instead of smoothly carrying him forward. – user5645 Apr 27 '15 at 3:52
  • Actually, I'll put that part back in. Reading Craig Sefton's accepted answer confirms my feel for language and my observation that this construct is a loop forcing the reader or listener back on past passages, something that the elegance and efficiency of spoken language usually does not do. The phrase probably feels comfortable and familiar to you and the others who upvoted your comment, because you are used to the business and technical writing that is mentioned as the common context for it in Craig's answer. – user5645 Apr 27 '15 at 4:11
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    @NeilFein This Wikipedia article provides a good summary and lists some sources: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Subvocalization_(Learning_and_Memory) If you have a specific question, ask on cogsci.SE and I'll try to dig up the papers. – user5645 Apr 27 '15 at 6:32
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I don't generally see anything wrong with using "and/or" in fiction, but you need to make sure that it is used in an appropriate way. You need to look at your writing as two separate sentences and make sure that they each come across the way you intended.

He planned to let Fields take the lead and try not to slow him down and get killed.

He planned to let Fields take the lead and try not to slow him down or get killed.

Another option would be to consider rewriting it all together.

He planned to let Fields take the lead and try not to slow him down, or worse, get him killed.

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In scientific writing, usage of and/or is not preferred. Consider the following example:

  1. The equation uses A and/or B. (not preferred)
  2. The equation uses A, B, or both. (preferred)
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    Thanks, but I was looking for advice for a fiction manuscript. – Nicole Apr 30 '15 at 12:01

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