How to Write Intelligible, Uh, Utterances in Your Stories

“For I have neither wit, nor words, nor worth,
Action, nor utterance, nor the power of speech,
To stir men’s blood: I only speak right on.” — (Mark Antony in William Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, Act 3, scene 2)

by geralt
by geralt

Does your character always say, for example, “yes,” “no,” or “let me think”? If he’s a proper sort of character, he might.

However, to add flavor to other types of characters, without overdoing it, sprinkle in some of the following utterances. Keep in mind the age, education, class, historical period, and nationality of your character. Did I say, don’t overdo?

Utterances

 

Some work for multiple purposes. Some have various spellings. This is a sampling.

by geralt
by geralt

Yes: mm-hm, uh-hm, uh-hmm, uh-huh, yeah, yep

Okay: kay, mkay, umkay, OK

No: uh-uh, hmm-mm, hun-uh, mm-mm, nah, nuh-uh, nope

 

by OpenClipartVectors
by OpenClipartVectors

I’m amazed. Ooh, wow, whoa

I’m alarmed. Yikes, whoa

I’m bored, and you’re boring. Ho-hum, yadda yadda, yada yada

I’m choking. Argh, awk, gak

I’m clearing my throat. Ahem, harrumph, Uh-hem

I’m confused. Huh? eh?

I’m disgusted. Bah, ew, harrumph, haw haw, hmpf, sheesh, phooey, tsk ugh, yuck, yucchh

I’m dumb. Duh

I’m exuberant. Wahoo, whee, yay, yeehaw, yee-haw, yippee

I’m enlightened. Ah, a-ha, aha

I’m glad I caught you off guard. Gotcha, Ha!

I’m here. Ahem, ahoy, psst, uh-hem, yoo-hoo

I’m laughing. Ha, ha ha, har har, he-he, yuk yuk

I’m liking this. Mmm, yum

I’m in pain. Aargh, argh, arrgh, ouch, ow, yeow, uggh, oomph

I’m proud of myself. Ta-da, ta-dah, tada, shazam

I’m puzzled. Hm, Huh, Hmm

I’m relieved. Whew, phew

I’m sneezing. Achoo, ah-choo, atchoo

I’m surprised. Oh, ooh, woops, whoops, whoa

I’m touched. Aw, aww

I’m wrong. Oop, oops, oopsy, uh-oh, woops, whoops

 

by Sponchia
by Sponchia

Fillers (Let me think): In real life these words, used for pauses, are about a fifth of words in conversation. In stories, use sparingly. Make sure filler utterances have a purpose. A character:

  • desperately needs time to think
  • is worried about saying the wrong thing
  • is dazed
  • is in an emotional state
  • needs to interrupt what he’s saying and start over.

Examples: ah, eh, er, erm, hm, uh, um. (Words, such as like and well are also often used as fillers.)

Use these utterances, sparingly, to add flavor to your characters. Click to tweet.

What are other utterances you’ve used or seen?

3 Tips to Edit Your Writing to Avoid a Reader’s “Huh?”

“It’s no wonder that truth is stranger than fiction. Fiction has to make sense.”  —Mark Twain

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles / FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of Stuart Miles / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

We know exactly what we mean when we write each sentence of our story. We’re surprised when our critique partner or editor doesn’t.

Tweetable

  • Does your editor often mark your work with “vague,” “awkward,” or “huh?”? click to tweet

Here are 3 tips that will improve the clearness of your writing.

Tip 1. Huh? That Couldn’t Happen.

When we put phrases in the wrong place or leave out words we can say something that’s impossible.

by mensatic
by mensatic

Example: He’d forgotten to tell Alice he’d seen three wild turkeys playing golf the other day.

Turkeys playing golf? Huh?

Be careful in your rewrite or you may create a new problem. For example: He’d forgotten to tell Alice while playing golf the other day he’d seen three wild turkeys.

Golf-hating Alice played golf with him? Huh?

Better Rewrite: Earlier today, he’d forgotten to tell Alice he’d seen three wild turkeys on the golf course the other day.

Watch out for impossible actions in your writing.

Tip 2. Huh? What does “it” or “that” or “her/him” refer to?

Sometimes we use “it” or “that” or a pronoun that could refer to more than one thing or person.

Image courtesy of imagerymajestic / FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of imagerymajestic / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Example: She gaped. Maude had told Alex every detail about her past. Maude’s blabbermouth would someday get her in trouble. That hurt her now.

Huh? What hurt? Maude’s gossip, Maude’s blabbermouth, or Maude’s ending up in trouble? Whose past was it? [She]’s or Maude’s? And Maude’s blabbermouth would get whom in trouble? [She] or Maude? That hurt whom? [She] or maybe Maude through a tarnished reputation?

Better Rewrite: Amy gaped. Maude had told Alex every detail about Amy’s past. Maude’s blabbermouth would someday get Maude in trouble. Now, Maude’s gossip had destroyed Amy’s chances to marry Alex.

A lot of names. But the reader shouldn’t be confused now. We could revamp the paragraph to cut down some of the names.

Tweetable

  • Watch out for the vague “it,” “that,” or pronoun in your writing. click to tweet

Tip 3. Huh? What did that sentence say?

We pack in several pieces of information and end up with a convoluted sentence.

Example: By reaching across the cement wall, Ziggy grabbed the Tiki torch Mom had put there with the hand she’d burned in last night’s fire lighting up the area with it to expose thieves climbing over it, snagging her sweater in the process.

karizbobariz
karizbobariz

Huh? Who had the burned hand? And did the Tiki torch or the fire light up the area to expose thieves? Did thieves climb over the wall, the fire, or the Tiki torch? Who snagged her sweater?

Better Rewrite: Ziggy eyed the Tiki torch Mom had put near the wall to expose thieves entering the yard. She reached the hand she’d burned in last night’s fire across the cement wall and grabbed the torch, snagging her sweater in the process.

Tweetable

  • Watch out for convoluted, awkward sentences in your writing. click to tweet

What other tips do you have to help writers keep their writing clear?