Stuttering and Mumbling

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TulipMama

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Some people stutter, have tourettes, or talk through things they really shouldn't in polite company. Sometimes these people make it into our writing, which they should, inclusion is important.

However, they bring forward an interesting problem. How to write a stammer that is understandable.

I find a stutter can be pretty easy to write. A friend of mine had one growing up and she's worked hard to even out her speech. When presented with how I wrote my stutter, she said it was pretty much bang on. I hung up on the hard consonants, c, k and t sounds mostly. The stutter presented in longer words more than shorter, well used words. It also wasn't entirely consistent, lacking a stutter on a word he'd stuttered on a chapter ago.

With confidence that my stutter sounded sincere, I moved onto my next issue which was balancing between quantity and legibility. Somebody has to read this someday, I want the halting, hung up words to get the stutter across without bogging the reader down. I think I managed it okay, but until I have a Beta reader I won't know for sure.


In the same book I have somebody trying to talk around a mouthful of pizza (she's got table manners for days). I took a bite of pizza one day, said the line and tried to copy it down phonetically. I'm concerned that it's not really understandable. I have context cues in the paragraph to help bridge the gab, but I'm also worried that's pulling the reader out of the scene too.


I'm curious about a couple things:

1) How do you write stutters/stammers/mumbles while balancing the line of intent and legibility?

2) Would anybody be heartbroken if i posted my mumbled dialogue here to see if it can be deciphered? I know this isn't the 'SYW' arena, but this is a rather particular issue.


Tulip Mama <3
 

Ari Meermans

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I'm so happy to see this post 'cause you've hit on one of my pet peeves. :)

First: The misuse of mutter, mumble, and murmur, which all have precise meanings. (Hint: A person does not mutter love words; they murmur them.)

Okay, your questions:

1. It depends on the particular disfluency. For stuttering, you'll usually see something like this: "That's where you c-c-connect the dots." (Note: A stutterer who would stutter a word when under pressure might not stutter the word when they aren't under some sort of pressure or isn't emotional in some way. Know which type of stutterer your character is.)

2. I have no problem with your posting ONE line of dialogue for example's sake but no more than that, 'kay?
 

TulipMama

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I'm so happy to see this post 'cause you've hit on one of my pet peeves. :)

First: The misuse of mutter, mumble, and murmur, which all have precise meanings. (Hint: A person does not mutter love words; they murmur them.)

Okay, your questions:

1. It depends on the particular disfluency. For stuttering, you'll usually see something like this: "That's where you c-c-connect the dots." (Note: A stutterer who would stutter a word when under pressure might not stutter the word when they aren't under some sort of pressure or isn't emotional in some way. Know which type of stutterer your character is.)

In this particular character's case it's a side-effect of his anthropophobia, so it only pops up when he's around other people. He's a necromancer at the MC's precinct and in-house medical examiner for magic related deaths. He has no stutter when talking to his reanimated patients.

2. I have no problem with your posting ONE line of dialogue for example's sake but no more than that, 'kay?

'Tis only the one line of dialogue I would care to be perused.

With the context of being asked if it's okay to walk into a fight having eaten a whole pizza, the MC stuffs a slice into her face and says:

“Mrf, ahv gah a hast mehabo-ism.”

Her lusciously well fed friend then gives her own midsection a glance before leveling a glare at my rail thin MC. Given the line and context, can you tell what's being said without too much issue?
 

Maryn

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I can figure it out, but I had to treat it like a puzzle. It stopped me cold. I was no longer reading but doing this phonics game. So IMO, it needs to be substantially clearer than that if you want the reader to simply read it, rather than stopping to "translate" the words on the page.

Sorry, not what you hoped to hear, I bet.

Maryn, hoping to help
 

mccardey

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'Tis only the one line of dialogue I would care to be perused.

With the context of being asked if it's okay to walk into a fight having eaten a whole pizza, the MC stuffs a slice into her face and says:

“Mrf, ahv gah a hast mehabo-ism.”
I would assume meaning from context quite easily, but I'd probably put the book back because I'd assume there was going to be more of it and that would bug me.

Is this eye-dialect? (which is an expression I've only seen used recently...) If it is, I'd be using it very sparsely.
 

Chris P

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I can figure it out, but I had to treat it like a puzzle. It stopped me cold. I was no longer reading but doing this phonics game. So IMO, it needs to be substantially clearer than that if you want the reader to simply read it, rather than stopping to "translate" the words on the page.

Sorry, not what you hoped to hear, I bet.

Maryn, hoping to help

I had the exact same reaction. In cases like this, and I think dialects fall under the same approach: it is best to provide enough "showing" of the person's speech to put their voices in our heads rather than going for a full-on transliteration of the sounds they make. To pull some oooooold literary examples, Joel Chandler Harris's heavy use of phonetic spelling for the Black dialects in the Uncle Remus stories are just about unreadable (let alone the racial stereotypes), while Charles Dickens's sparing use of phonetics for the dialect of Mr. Pegotty in Dave Copperfield is just enough (to me anyway) to establish Mr. Pegotty's working-class identity without belaboring it It doesn't all have to be spelled out, nor should it be.
 
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TulipMama

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It's the only line of 'mumble' in the book, and it's in chapter 23 out of 29, so that may be a little late in the game to think about putting it down.

I'm actually happy to hear it's hard to read through. I mean, I'd be happier to hear 'I understood it and it's wonderful you're awesome' but I am glad to know it should be fixed. I may just have MC stuff her pizza faceward and motion for another as her answer. The point of the brief scene is to showcase her general uncooth nature, and her friendship with the passenger.

Thanks everyone for looking into that line for me!

If I knew how to give reputation, I would o_O


Tulip Mama <3
 

mccardey

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It's the only line of 'mumble' in the book, and it's in chapter 23 out of 29, so that may be a little late in the game to think about putting it down.

I'm actually happy to hear it's hard to read through. I mean, I'd be happier to hear 'I understood it and it's wonderful you're awesome' but I am glad to know it should be fixed. I may just have MC stuff her pizza faceward and motion for another as her answer. The point of the brief scene is to showcase her general uncooth nature, and her friendship with the passenger.

Thanks everyone for looking into that line for me!

If I knew how to give reputation, I would o_O


Tulip Mama <3

If it's just one line and that far in, that does make a difference. But in that case, if you did want to keep it, I'd look at using more differentiated sounds to make it (slightly) clearer.
“Mrf, ahv gah a hast mehabo-ism.”
I think you rely too strongly on 'h' doing duty for too many very different consonants.
 

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