Writing Verbal Ticks

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Justobuddies

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In my world the cost of magic is mental decline, similar to lead or mercury exposure in our own history. I'm writing a wizard character and I need her to have some sort of verbal tick, something that shows the prolonged focus and exposure to chaos magic has left her a bit touched. I recall an old film called "The Madness of King George" where the king had this thing where he said "what what" or "what ho" randomly at the end of sentences. I'm wanting to add something like that but don't want it to be something that readers find obnoxious and annoying, or get in the way of the dialogue.

All advice is appreciated.
 

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In my world the cost of magic is mental decline, similar to lead or mercury exposure in our own history. I'm writing a wizard character and I need her to have some sort of verbal tick, something that shows the prolonged focus and exposure to chaos magic has left her a bit touched. I recall an old film called "The Madness of King George" where the king had this thing where he said "what what" or "what ho" randomly at the end of sentences. I'm wanting to add something like that but don't want it to be something that readers find obnoxious and annoying, or get in the way of the dialogue.

All advice is appreciated.
You could just show her having memory loss -- not being able to remember the right word for something, or not remembering people's names, or not remembering where she left her coffee cup (oh, no, wait, that's me!).

Alternatively, you could have her randomly substituting words without realising she's doing it. Your word choices could result in it being funny ("a stitch in time saves wine!"). Or you could have her kind of lose that filter between brain and mouth (oh, wait, again, that's me!) so that she blurts out things like "Oh, yes, I remember you! You're the wizard whose mouth looks just like my cat's anus!"
 
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Kat M

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Are you imagining a condition similar to dementia? Have you observed someone with dementia or looked into the research on how that affects their language? That might be a place to start.

I remember when my grandma was getting up there in years, her language attenuated less to verbal tics and more to catch phrases. If anyone expressed the slightest disgruntlement about anything she would say "What did I do?" And once I started college I got introduced to everybody seven times or so. "This is my granddaughter. She goes to ____." Church ladies. Senior/disabled shuttle bus drivers. Paramedics the one time she fell on me and needed help getting up. She always said things like that, but it became more pronounced the more confused she got, like the catch phrases were how she kept her grip on everything. Might something similar work for your character?
 

iBleed2

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I think the verbal tick you mention works well for tv or cinema but personally I would find it annoying in text. Introducing a variety of ways would be good but generally, I think I would be annoyed if there was a conversation where everybody's confused and forgetting what to say or what happened. If you're going for a slight comedy bend I could see it working but if its serious, I would get frustrated. Perhaps instead of verbal ticks, maybe it's more important the things they don't say or perhaps reveal this with their internal dialogue.
 

Paul Lamb

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I've read this advice for writing characters with accents: a little goes a long way. I think the same could apply to the verbal ticks you suggest. Do it a bit at the start to get it established in the reader's mind, and then just bring it in occasionally to reinforce the trait. The reader will establish it in their understanding of the character and you won't need to reference it much after that.
 

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