“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)
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?
Some work for multiple purposes. Some have various spellings. This is a sampling.
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
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
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?
I made quite a profit at little expense. Cha-ching!
Oh yeah, a character making the sound of money registered. Good one, Marcia.
“Indeed?” Very British, speculative, great for cozies.
Thanks for the addition, Marilyn. One source I came across said Americans pause with “um” and “em” and British use “uh” and “eh.” I say uh a lot but not eh.
Great blog, Zoe. I’m bookmarking this one!
Aw, Marion, I’m glad you, uh, you can use the post. :0)
I’m a total dialogue nerd and loved this post. I’ll be linking to it on 7/24/15. 🙂
Excellent resource. Thank you, Zoe.
Thanks, Jane. I printed it and put it in my folder in which I have lists of words to use or cliches to not use.