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I've got a character that mumbles, and I'd like good advice on how to write his dialogue. He isn't a POV character, and I won't give him too much dialogue that would make the reading tedious, but it's important that I show his mumbling through his dialogue, when necessary.

What sounds would the character have difficulty pronouncing?

This thread on writing slurred speech has some useful ideas, though I'm not sure any of them apply to mumbled speech.

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I would do a little eye dialect when the character first speaks:

Thash nuyor biznush!

(Maybe not quite that dramatic, but maybe.)

Then have your other characters react to it, asking the character "sorry? I didn't quite get that?" or echoing what they think they heard. Then, because all of this is tiring for the reader, switch from dialog to narration:

Eventually Perry was able to establish that Chris had seen the rider yesterday, and heard his voice this morning.

You could also try not specifying the precise words:

Chris mumbled a quick denial, almost unintelligible but definitely angry.

You can also summarize with dialog amongst others:

Any luck talking to that old drunk up there?

Chris isn't drunk, it's some sort of speech impediment. Anyway, she told me …

If the character re-appears after many chapters, again go with the eye dialect to remind everyone that Chris mumbles, and then again switch to just summarizing. You have lots of ways to avoid literal dialog from this character.

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  • Can you explain a little bit more about what you mean by "eye dialect" please? May 11 '20 at 18:46
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    en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eye_dialect - it's when you write out certain character's speech phonetically, to highlight how different it is from the rest of the dialog. Eg in Swallows and Amazons the kids all have upper class English accents and their dialog is just written normally, but the locals they interact with are written as saying "Aaar, lass, tha shouldna ha gun thar" kind of thing. It can be offensive, but in small doses can show clearly how one character does not speak like the others. May 11 '20 at 19:46
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Glottal stop sounds and vibrations are always picked up easier for me than anything else I find. Maybe a lot of Ks, Vs, Zs, and Ts. Typographically I think font size can go a long way here in conjunction with ellipses

"What are you waiting for!"

Mr. Incredible barked.

"I don't know!..."

"Something amazing I guess..."

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Words are less clearly pronounced, because the mouth movements required for clear speech are "lazier". So, if you speak out your character's words with a lazier pronunciation, you can then transcribe them into the text.

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  • Why did you ask the question if you had an answer? May 8 '20 at 17:29
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    @TitaniumTurtle Pretty sure the SE philosophy is that answering your own question is fine :) May 9 '20 at 6:38
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    @DM_with_secrets Yup - in fact, it's encouraged May 11 '20 at 12:28
  • @Chronocidal Cool, thanks for the confirmation and the links! May 11 '20 at 16:13

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