Homer Simpson’s famous “Doh!” makes us laugh. Yet when novel writers try to write “natural-sounding” dialogue, they often add in stumbles such as Well, Uh, Er and maybe even Oh. Why is this not a good idea?
Writing Tip for Today: Go ahead and draft dialogue with these conversation confounders–after all we don’t want to edit while we create. But when you revise, in most cases omit all these superfluous words. Here’s why:
Words Have Value.
One reason it’s usually not effective to include these filler words is that in fiction, each word must have value. In other words, readers want every word, sentence and paragraph to give them as much info about the character and story as possible. If your character has a certain way of uttering “Well,” then that speaks to character and could be included. But if you write dialogue with these empty calorie words just to make it sound “real” or natural, chances are that readers will only be vaguely irritated by the dialogue slow down. You can think of the ers and uhs as Twinkie Words–long on reality and short on meaning.
Readers Skim for Meaning.
Adding too many of these Twinkie Words can also lead readers to skim for meaning. Whereas the occasional Doh! or Cowabunga adds character and interest, peppering your prose with too many of these forces readers to read faster as they scramble to find meaning. A skimming reader is one that could easily let go of your story. Don’t endanger the readability of your story by pinning it to a bunch of Twinkie Words that are as meaningful as that artificially-flavored creme filling.
Do You Miss It?
When you revise a scene, look for and remove all of your wells, uh, etc in dialogue and then reread your sentence. Do you really miss the hesitation? If hesitation is what you’re after, try using body language or inner thought to suggest indecision rather than the throw-away words. Your scene will play just as realistically and perhaps better. Chances are, those Twinkie Words will not be missed.