I am working on a scene in my novel I am writing and have a question about the style of wording in a drunk character’s speech. I have included the character dialogue below. The character is drunk and is slurring. When my wife looked at this, she did not get my character slurring. She asked what type of language he is speaking. Should I italicize his dialogue to emphasize the slur?

“H-h-h-hey baebae!” slurred Brock. “Where ya fuckin’ been?” The buttons on his shirt were unbuttoned from the neck down to the middle of his pecs. He was perspiring profusely; it showed on his forehead. His pupils were dilated, and white powder lined his nose. He grabbed Isabella’s forearm and growled, “Whada hell you doin’?” “Ouch! Brock!” cried Isabella in a hushed whisper, “you’re drunk and you’re hurting me!”
“Hey!” Yousif shouted. “What is your problem? Do not grab her like that!”
Brock released his grip and stumbled towards Yousif with a reddened face. He glared at him and said, “Boy, I know you! You the boxer, right? Well you gerring close t-t-to gerring your ass beat. I-I’m a street fighrer and c-c-can k-k-kick yer ass!”

How can I make this clearer?


2 Answers 2


I think the elisions work better than the stuttering. Your "Whada hell you doin'?" is good. It's perfectly comprehensible and it gives the clear impression of someone speaking less than usually clearly (especially if the reader comes to expect from the wider context of your writing that the same character, when sober, would ask "What the hell are you doing?"). A bit of swearing is good, again on the general theme that Brock's drunkenness has generally made his character more extreme.

I see what you're trying to do with the stuttering, but it doesn't really sound convincing. I think the actual sentence is too lucid for the stuttering and slurring that's been overlaid on it. How does this sound?

"Boy, I know you! You da boxer, right? I'mma street fighter, I am." He leered at Yousif. "An' I'mma kick your ass!"

The actual thoughts Brock is trying to convey are simpler, drunken thoughts, and the sentence interposed in the middle suggests a bit of a pause, because even this level of communication is quite taxing for Brock in the very drunk state he's in.

(Your changed word "fighrer" doesn't sound right at all, it's not a natural relaxation from "fighter", it's a change. "Figh'er" might work, but on balance I'd just leave it as "fighter" and convey the deterioration in speech clarity elsewhere.)


Maybe describe the way he looks and behaves rather than making it hard for the reader to decifer what he's saying. If we know the character, make him talk in ways he normally wouldn't. Like the swearing and agressive behavior, is it out of character?

He could be spitting while leaning in real close. Maybe he forgot what he just said and repeats himself? Or interrupts his own sentence and starts on a totally different subject. Or starting the same sentence two, three times.

What does he look like? Is he swaying? His eyes blood shot and half open. Is he slumped over and hard to hear? Or intense and throwing out words that only makes sense to him? The others may not even understand half of what he's saying. He could be knocking over a drink or a chair, trying to get in the boxer's face.

I often find that a drunk person doesn't get what you're telling them either and you have to repeat yourself. They misunderstand the meaning, reacting inappropriately. I'd use that rather than spelling words in a way that makes me pause and read again. Maybe instead of having him stutter, make him repeat the first word(s) in a sentence.

Happy writing.

  • Observation is the key to good writing, so observing a drunk person and looking for distinctive features is definitely a good start. Not understanding things or not listening, going off on tangents, repetition, mood swings, etc.
    – Stuart F
    Commented Dec 31, 2021 at 14:17

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