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Thread: Speech Impediments

  1. #1
    Chronic State of Query Ergo's Avatar
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    Speech Impediments

    Somewhere buried in this forum or perhaps another is an aged thread about speech impediments and how best to present them. Those who chimed in carried strong recommendations to 'write around it.'

    Example:

    "I took it to the post office" said Mr. Whipple, his tongue tripping over the series of 't's' and lips protesting over the destination.

    Yah know, that just didn't do it for me. And then today I was reading H.G. Wells "The Food of the Gods" and was introduced to lisping Mr. Skinner and his wife of one tooth.

    "I haven't theen much of 'im yet," said Mr. Skinner. "But as far as I can make 'im out 'e theems to be a thtewpid o' fool."

    By itself, Wells turn of the century London pen takes some patience to absorb. Yet even with that, the impediments work.

    I think it's also important to acknowledge that this should be limited to minor characters. An entire novel of "Got to be meathured every blethed day" could only be torturous.

    Respectfully,

    Ergo
    Last edited by Ergo; 01-27-2013 at 08:39 AM.

  2. #2
    Let's see what's on special today.. Bufty's Avatar
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    It may work for a little but even with Wells it eventually becomes darned tedious.

    =Ergo;7911804]Somewhere buried in this forum or perhaps another is an aged thread about speech impediments and how best to present them. Those who chimed in carried strong recommendations to 'write around it.'

    Example:

    "I took it to the post office" said Mr. Whipple, his tongue tripping over the series of 't's' and lips protesting over the destination.

    Yah know, that just didn't do it for me. Maybe because that contrived example isn't a particularly good way of describing a character's speech impediment - whatever it's meant to be.

    And then today I was reading H.G. Wells "The Food of the Gods" and was introduced to lisping Mr. Skinner and his wife of one tooth.

    "I haven't theen much of 'im yet," said Mr. Skinner. "But as far as I can make 'im out 'e theems to be a thtewpid o' fool."

    By itself, Wells turn of the century London pen takes some patience to absorb. Yet even with that, the impediments work.

    I think it's also important to acknowledge that this should be limited to minor characters. An entire novel of "Got to be meathured every blethed day" could only be torturous.

    Respectfully,

    Ergo
    Everything yields to treatment.

  3. #3
    greatest writer of his generation u.v.ray's Avatar
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    It can also be demonstrated through the reaction of other characters...


    "gorrany ovdem oudder payders?"

    "You what?"

    "I sed, gorrany ovdem oudder payders?"

    "Piss off, I can't tell a word you're saying!"



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  4. #4
    The Crazy Man in the Sun. Feel me. WillSauger's Avatar
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    Annoying on both accounts. Describing voices typically comes too late and doesn't work well, and it's hard to read otherwise.


    I also have to stress the point of the impediment. Why? Why use it?
    I can see it used in like The King's Speech. But not for some characterization that has no purpose in the story.

    Don't do things just 'cause you can. If there's not purpose, there's no use in doing it.
    Last edited by WillSauger; 01-27-2013 at 07:33 PM.
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  5. #5
    The grad students did it NeuroFizz's Avatar
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    Equally annoying is apostrophe diarrhea. It seems like common sense to me that any time the way dialogue is written or punctuated risks pulling the reader out of the story and/or out of the flow of the scene, the writer should avoid it.
    Last edited by NeuroFizz; 01-27-2013 at 05:48 PM.
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  6. #6
    figuring it all out Elenma's Avatar
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    Personally, I have never read any attempt to show pronunciation in the way dialog is spelled without finding it incredibly distracting.

    Also, not only is it annoying, it can also very easily become offensive. Writing out a speech impediment like that can make the person look stupid or reduce them to a humorous stereotype or at the very least distract from any other attributes they may have.

  7. #7
    Angel Wing Fetish VoireyLinger's Avatar
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    Here's the thing for me. If it's a main character with a consistent impediment, then having the stutter or lisp spelled out every single time is going to cause problems for me as a reader.

    There are work-arounds that are natural, unlike the wordy and overly contrived example given initially. A person with a stutter is going to naturally speak less and avoid words they know will trip them up, so you won't be dealing with long passages of dialogue. In fact, you can use fragments and one-word answers to direct question as much as possible. The character would be embarrassed by his stutter and that would come out in his thoughts. Can you put an indicator in? Of course. Just don't present the reader with page after page of P-p-p and T-t-t.

    As for your example of Wells' writing... 1) it's a bad idea to refer to outdated materials for modern writing. Things change in the market in under 5 years, so classic books are going to be way off modern publishing standards.

    And 2) Wells could have easily said the man lisped. I had to stop and sound "thtewpid" to read it, which is never good for me as a reader. The core of the advice to not spell out accents and impediments is based on the fact that we sight read. We don't sound out every word, and having to stop and figure out what this or that word is gets irritating. Thewes no weason to speww wike this when it's just as simple to say the character talked like Elmer Fudd.

  8. #8
    banned as an incurable tosspot
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    Sorry, I have to disagree. This is the way people talk. If I'm reading a crime novel and the detective interviews a gang-banger, I don't want the gangster to say something like, "Yes. We were standing together near the entrance to the bar, when a '98 Cadillac drove by with a young man hanging out, holding what appeared to be a Tech-9 firearm."

    I've read on this forum that the reader will create the dialect and slang in his/her own mind. Give me a break!

    As with anything you can craftily make dialect work, even for a speech impediment, if you use your skills. One thought is to use the dialect/impediment for "accent," and paraphrase the bulk of the conversation so that it doesn't bog down.

  9. #9
    Let's see what's on special today.. Bufty's Avatar
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    Dialect or local slang is not the same as a speech impediment similar to that in the OP's referenced tale.

    Quote Originally Posted by DennisB View Post
    Sorry, I have to disagree. This is the way people talk. If I'm reading a crime novel and the detective interviews a gang-banger, I don't want the gangster to say something like, "Yes. We were standing together near the entrance to the bar, when a '98 Cadillac drove by with a young man hanging out, holding what appeared to be a Tech-9 firearm."

    I've read on this forum that the reader will create the dialect and slang in his/her own mind. Give me a break!

    As with anything you can craftily make dialect work, even for a speech impediment, if you use your skills. One thought is to use the dialect/impediment for "accent," and paraphrase the bulk of the conversation so that it doesn't bog down.
    Everything yields to treatment.

  10. #10
    Girl Detective AW Moderator Stacia Kane's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Bufty View Post
    Dialect or local slang is not the same as a speech impediment similar to that in the OP's referenced tale.

    Yes, this. A lot of my dialogue is very dialect-heavy; most of my characters speak in dialect, and it's a strong and very specific dialect (and each character uses it a little differently or has specific quirks within that dialect). I still wouldn't give my readers dialogue filled with "thtwepid" or "P-p-p-put th-the gun d-d-d-d-do-do-down."

    There's a difference between strengthening character and world, and irritating the reader.

    (ETA: I wrote a character with a sort of speech impediment, where he was so mush-mouthed and spoke so quickly as to be almost unintelligible. I believe I wrote one or two of his lines phonetically throughout the scene [and then provided the "translation"], but for the most part just wrote them as the MC understood them in her head; that is, it was filtered through her as she worked out what he was saying. Because an entire scene where one character, who talks a lot, says things like, "A'swha'm sayn, gurlie, ain gofrm heret'ere," or whatever, is going to drive readers nuts, is going to be very difficult for them to understand, and isn't necessary.)
    Last edited by Stacia Kane; 01-27-2013 at 07:36 PM.
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  11. #11
    New Fish; Learning About Thick Skin
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    I don't see there being much different between a dialect and a speech impediment. Both times the reader will have to pause to sound out certain words.
    I think writing out a speech impediment, like with a dialect, can make a fantastic read.
    For example, Pratchett's Nac Mac Feegles - I LOVE the way they talk (Scottish) and after reading one of those books I actually start talking like that for a while.

    If a writer uses something like the original example;

    "I took it to the post office" said Mr. Whipple, his tongue tripping over the series of 't's' and lips protesting over the destination.
    I find this incredibly boring. I can't hear the impediment at all and therefore some of the characterisation is lost.

    The use of an impediment must be kept realistic and so I don't think that examples like p-p-p should be used all the time. As previously mentioned, people with stutters would most likely try and avoid using words they have trouble saying.

    I think you need to give the reader more credit. Sure, it takes a while to get used to but if the writing is strong then the reader will continue and it's very easy to pick up the habit of reading certain impediments or dialects. But the writing has to be strong.
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  12. #12
    Let's see what's on special today.. Bufty's Avatar
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    The effectiveness of a local dialect is dependent upon careful/selection of dialect orientated words and careful placing of those words in the phrasing of dialogue. It can be sustained and can be done very well or very badly.

    An impediment is a physical impairment causing ordinary words to be pronounced with difficulty or mispronounced and that is not the same as a dialect. Conveying a character's speech impediment only needs very occasional reference after the reader learns that such an impediment exists.

    Quote Originally Posted by Splodge View Post
    I don't see there being much different between a dialect and a speech impediment. Both times the reader will have to pause to sound out certain words.
    I think writing out a speech impediment, like with a dialect, can make a fantastic read.
    For example, Pratchett's Nac Mac Feegles - I LOVE the way they talk (Scottish) and after reading one of those books I actually start talking like that for a while.

    If a writer uses something like the original example;



    I find this incredibly boring. I can't hear the impediment at all and therefore some of the characterisation is lost.

    The use of an impediment must be kept realistic and so I don't think that examples like p-p-p should be used all the time. As previously mentioned, people with stutters would most likely try and avoid using words they have trouble saying.

    I think you need to give the reader more credit. Sure, it takes a while to get used to but if the writing is strong then the reader will continue and it's very easy to pick up the habit of reading certain impediments or dialects. But the writing has to be strong.
    Everything yields to treatment.

  13. #13
    Chronic State of Query Ergo's Avatar
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    During the 6 o’clock smoke break, Brutus paced the room strategically. He looked from face to face, and shirt pocket to shirt pocket, trying to assess his best mark. Then he made his move.


    “May I have a ‘igarette please? The question came from a mouth that had lost many a tooth to dental neglect, face smashing or a combination of both.


    Whitey readily gave up the lower half of his butt.


    “hank you.” The words came out choppy, with a tone of gratitude. Or was it an ‘I’ve got you by the balls now my diminutive friend!’

    Whitey anguished over his gesture. Had he just shown an act of kindness that would be respected by Brutus, or had he just become a sucker, displaying his weakness. A weakness that would be exploited. ‘I know you got ‘igorettes in ‘ta room. Give ‘em to me or I’ll ‘urt you! And even after I’ve got ‘em I’ll ‘urt you. ‘urt you bad!

    -------------

    Brutus plays an exquisitely small role in this work. Four or five pages at most, but his speech impediment creates more fear than his physical appearance. He is a gentle man, using the words 'please' and 'hank you.' Yet they convey a tone of deception via their unaccustomed delivery.

    Whitey eventually discovers that the man is boardline retarded and gentle as a lamb. The impediment helps modify his jaded views.

  14. #14
    Let's see what's on special today.. Bufty's Avatar
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    That 'igarette, I'm afraid, does not work for me.

    It completely jars despite the explanation.

    How can the character say 'please' yet not pronounce the 'c' in cigarette?

    Originally posted by Ergo. During the 6 o’clock smoke break, Brutus paced the room strategically. He looked from face to face, and shirt pocket to shirt pocket, trying to assess his best mark. Then he made his move.


    “May I have a ‘igarette please? The question came from a mouth that had lost many a tooth to dental neglect, face smashing or a combination of both.


    Whitey readily gave up the lower half of his butt.


    “hank you.” The words came out choppy, with a tone of gratitude. Or was it an ‘I’ve got you by the balls now my diminutive friend!’

    Whitey anguished over his gesture. Had he just shown an act of kindness that would be respected by Brutus, or had he just become a sucker, displaying his weakness. A weakness that would be exploited. ‘I know you got ‘igorettes in ‘ta room. Give ‘em to me or I’ll ‘urt you! And even after I’ve got ‘em I’ll ‘urt you. ‘urt you bad!

    -------------

    Brutus plays an exquisitely small role in this work. Four or five pages at most, but his speech impediment creates more fear than his physical appearance. He is a gentle man, using the words 'please' and 'hank you.' Yet they convey a tone of deception via their unaccustomed delivery.

    Whitey eventually discovers that the man is boardline retarded and gentle as a lamb. The impediment helps modify his jaded views.
    Everything yields to treatment.

  15. #15
    Chronic State of Query Ergo's Avatar
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    Vastly different tongue, roof, teeth mechanics.

  16. #16
    Let's see what's on special today.. Bufty's Avatar
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    I'm not familiar with the intricate relationship between dental neglect, face-smashing and speech but all the phonetics there are completely ineffective for me.

    I'm sure you could get the character's threatening nature across far more effectively without them.


    Quote Originally Posted by Ergo View Post
    Vastly different tongue, roof, teeth mechanics.
    Everything yields to treatment.

  17. #17
    Tell it like it Is Susan Littlefield's Avatar
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    Remember that there are many different types and not all are displayed in the same way.

    On my dad's side of the family, most of the men (dad and at least three of his males siblings) have speech defects, which is the inability to pronounce "s" sounds correctly. For example, my childhood name "Susie" will often come out "Shushie". Another relative has a speech impediment that comes out as mispronunciations when she's really tired or stressed. I have a slight one where I know exactly how to pronounce a word, but it will sometimes comes out wrong when I speak it.

    My point is that it today's world you need to be really careful how you write in someone's speech. For example, if you make someone stutter or lisp or mispronounce words every time they speak, it will get annoying really fast.

    It's okay to say that someone stumbles over his words, or lisps, or mispronounces his words, and show it once or twice. Readers will remember.

    "I took it to the post office" said Mr. Whipple, his tongue tripping over the series of 't's'..
    Actually, I like this and can hear it.

    "gorrany ovdem oudder payders?"

    "You what?"

    "I sed, gorrany ovdem oudder payders?"

    "Piss off, I can't tell a word you're saying!"
    This just does not do it for me. It's way too overdone.

    Dialect or local slang is not the same as a speech impediment similar to that in the OP's referenced tale.
    There's a difference between strengthening character and world, and irritating the reader.
    Thumbs up on both of these points!

    That 'igarette, I'm afraid, does not work for me.

    It completely jars despite the explanation.

    How can the character say 'please' yet not pronounce the 'c' in cigarette?
    I agree. If he's lost half his teeth, most words will not come out correctly.

    If you are going to show the speech impediment in dialogue, you need to be consistent. You may even need to do some research. I can't imagine my uncle mispronouncing my name, yet being able to say the word "sit" correctly.
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  18. #18
    Let's see what's on special today.. Bufty's Avatar
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    To put that forward in defence of any character being able to pronounce the 's' in the word 'please' but not the 's' in 'cigarette' is total hogwash.

    Quote Originally Posted by Ergo View Post
    Vastly different tongue, roof, teeth mechanics.
    Everything yields to treatment.

  19. #19
    practical experience, FTW benbenberi's Avatar
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    IMO, unless a specific speech impediment is directly important to the plot, it's a bad idea to try to write it into the dialog. As the thread above indicates, what works for one reader completely fails with another. Leaving aside that readers have different understanding of the mechanics of speech & its impediments, we all hear different things in our heads when we look at a word because we all carry different default dialects & accents. And for some readers reading is a purely visual thing, so they don't "hear" the words at all.

    Even when an attempt to spell a speech impediment in the dialog gets the right flavor of difference across, it still slows the reading and doesn't actually add anything to the experience that can't be added more efficiently and just as effectively by a well-chosen description.

  20. #20
    Freelance Writer Orianna2000's Avatar
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    I read fast. I devour books, so it's only natural that I strongly dislike any novel where I have to pause and try and figure out what someone says. In the time it takes me to decipher a line of phonetic dialogue, I could have already turned a page or two. My dislike goes for accents and dialect, as well as speech impediments, or even just someone talking with his mouth full of peanut butter sandwich.

    Of course, having a riveting story with compelling characters helps. The more engrossed readers are, the more likely they are to forgive any annoyances.

  21. #21
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    Quote Originally Posted by Orianna2000 View Post
    I devour books, so it's only natural that I strongly dislike any novel where I have to pause and try and figure out what someone says.

    ...

    Of course, having a riveting story with compelling characters helps. The more engrossed readers are, the more likely they are to forgive any annoyances.
    Perfectly said! It's a tricky point of balance to try to convey a character in dialog but not become obnoxious. I grapple with characters who use English as a second language and imperfectly so. And clearly there are grand colorful cast members in everyone's work whose speech is part of what makes them a memorable character.

    The challenge is to use it to allow the reader to "hear" and imagine the speaker, but with sufficient restraint that it doesn't become a blockade for moving the story along.

    Perhaps the answer lies not so much in phonetic spelling but in patterns of speech? Or at least an occasional phonetic that is quickly grasped and easily formed in the mind?

  22. #22
    practical experience, FTW rwm4768's Avatar
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    I would mention that the speaker has a speech impediment, but actually showing the impediment bothers me as a reader. I have similar thoughts toward narration done in dialogue, which is why I didn't enjoy Huck Finn even though the story was good.

    In my work, I'll go as far as using wanna and gotta for certain characters.

  23. #23
    Chronic State of Query Ergo's Avatar
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    I'll admit that I was really annoyed by Big Bill's stutter in Stephen King's 'It.' I could almost see the dots of spittle on the pages each time this major character agonized over a sentence.

    I'll hold to the acceptability of a minor character lisping for a handful of pages so long as he and his impediment are important contributions to the work.

  24. #24
    Let's see what's on special today.. Bufty's Avatar
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    ...and provided it is written in a credible fashion.

    Quote Originally Posted by Ergo View Post
    I'll admit that I was really annoyed by Big Bill's stutter in Stephen King's 'It.' I could almost see the dots of spittle on the pages each time this major character agonized over a sentence.

    I'll hold to the acceptability of a minor character lisping for a handful of pages so long as he and his impediment are important contributions to the work.
    Everything yields to treatment.

  25. #25
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    Quote Originally Posted by WillSauger View Post
    Annoying on both accounts. Describing voices typically comes too late and doesn't work well, and it's hard to read otherwise.


    I also have to stress the point of the impediment. Why? Why use it?
    I can see it used in like The King's Speech. But not for some characterization that has no purpose in the story.

    Don't do things just 'cause you can. If there's not purpose, there's no use in doing it.
    I'm glad you wrote this out so I didn't have to.

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