Verbal Tics. Do you use them?

I use verbal tics in my fiction. These are little tells that can reveal background, character, or even eliminate the need for a dialog tag.

These tics are never part of my main character, at least they never have been. I reserve them for supporting characters. Here are some examples of what I’m talking about:

In Wild Concept, Lisa makes friends with a tattoo artist/biker dude. He tends to replace the words ‘has’ or ‘have’ with ‘gots.’ He might say, “We gots to go to the Sheriff’s auction tomorrow.”

This reveals a bit about his upbringing, and possibly about his education. When he drops a line like that, I really don’t need a dialog tag after I’ve set the stage.

I used a cast of thousands in The Cock of the South. (Okay hundreds, but it sounds so Cecil B. Demille I had to use it.) As a way of making a supporting character stand out, I gave him a verbal tic. Roald the dwarf comes from a different part of Europe than the rest of the cast. I chose to introduce his Swedish accent in dialect, but drop it for ease of reading. Therefore, he winds up ending a lot of sentences with “by golly.” He might say, “We can’t leave until we get them cows milked, by golly.”

I think it’s a fair way of reminding readers that Roald isn’t from around these parts.

I’ve done it again, by golly. (Sorry) In my new project there is a character named Wally who is a computer whiz. He tends to end most of his comments with ‘yeah’ in a questioning fashion. It might look something like this, “We’re going to the Sheriff’s auction, yeah?”

It gives me the impression that he’s looking for approval, and adds a bit of character to his section at the same time.

So how about it? Does anyone else use verbal tics when they write dialog? I’ve never done it with more than one character at a time, because it could get annoying. If you don’t use them, would you ever? Why or why not?


Filed under Writing

28 responses to “Verbal Tics. Do you use them?

  1. Never really used them beyond a few characters that don’t use contractions and Fizzle’s child-like word usage. I’m impressed when an author can work with tics and keep them consistent. I need to practice more in this arena.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I’ve used verbal tics, but I’ve also learned there’s a fine line between enough and too much. I had an Irish supporting character that liked to call his co-supporting character “my boy”. Such as: “Come now, m’boy, let’s stop at the pub and talk about this.” But when I’d read through after letting it sit for a few weeks, I pulled some of the tics because, well, they were just too much. BTW, Wally’s “yeah” reminds me of the Canadian “eh”. You sure he’s not a Canuck?

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I’ve not consciously done it, but it’s a good idea, as long as it’s not overdone as you point out. Helps the reader know who’s talking without using any tag. Great idea.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. I agree with Carrie above. 🙂 I like your character with the “gots.”

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Reblogged this on My train of thoughts on… and commented:
    Advice by a writer I truly admire: C. S. Boyack 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I have not, but it is a good idea. I use very few tags in dialog and this might be a way to have a character stand out eh?

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I think what you are doing is a good idea.

    What I can’t stand is when an author tries to give the character an accent by spelling words incorrectly. It would be OK in an audiobook script, but on paper it slows down my reading and annoys the heck out of me.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. That’s a good way of building a bit of instant character. I’ll have to think on that next time I do any fiction writing!

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Nyambura

    Such a simple solution to save a reader from the sometimes-dreaded ‘he said/she said’. Thank you for this.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Verbal tics are so fun to write. Cast of hundreds? Wow. That’s an impressive undertaking. I bet verbal tics worked beautifully in that case. I like to play around with them, usually only using them for secondary characters.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Perhaps not tics, as such, but I do use different speech patterns for different characters. For example, I have a character who never uses contractions – his speech is very measured, because control is a big part of his make up. I have another character who starts the book with a real potty mouth, but ends it by hardly swearing at all, as her situation changes. (not an Eliza-Doolittle-type transformation, though:-) ) I think speech is a wonderful tool for defining characters and, as you say, if you add in the tics or verbal styles, you then don’t need to explain much more – the reader has the cue to figure it out for themselves.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Yes. People do speak differently. Our characters’ speech should reflect their background, education and personality. Absolutely. It’s something that bothers me when I’m reading, particularly when the fictional jargon doesn’t reflect the fictional character’s education.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Thanks for the reminder. I have used them in several books. Yes, you can overdo a good thing. I had to be careful when not using contractions for one of my characters. It forced me to think of ways to say something without the use of a contraction. Thanks again. This was a good reminder as I write the third book in my series.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Originally born and raised in Chicago, I say things like “you’se guys” and “we seen him yesterday.” Very nostalgic. My dad actually talked like that all the time.

    Liked by 1 person

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