How to Write Stuttering

stutter photo

Photo by Mark Daynes on Unsplash

I recently edited a book in which there was a character who stuttered when he became anxious. There are guidelines about how to write stuttering and the best way to handle these characters and situations.

Here’s how you do it: write the first sound, and then repeat it one or more times, separating the sounds with a hyphen.

Example: He c-c-collected silly t-ties.

The first sound can be the first letter, as with the example above, or it can be two letters.

Example: I don’t think Holden Caulfield is a ph-phony.

Example: She dr-dr-dreaded the dance party.



Less often, stuttering happens in the middle of a word (typically with a consonant), but it follows the same rules.

Example: The cat ate the can-n-nary.

Is It a Stutter or a Pause?
If they pause and repeat a whole word, that’s not stuttering; that’s just a regular pause. In those cases, use ellipses to show the break.

Example: She said, “Wow, those khakis look so . . . so amazing on you.”

Don’t Overuse
Be sure to use stuttering sparingly so the text doesn’t get tiring (and annoying) to read. This also means limiting the number of characters who stutter. Really, any more than one can walk on the edge of overuse.

Erin Servais is an author coach and book editor who knows all the little tips and tricks that will make your manuscript look good. Learn more about how she and her company, Dot and Dash, LLC, can help you here.

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18 thoughts on “How to Write Stuttering

  1. When a stutter starts a sentence, how do you treat the caps? I like “P-p-please keep your hand—”; but sometimes I see it as “P-P-Please . . .”


    • Hi, Maya.
      The first sound is “pr,” so it would be: He’s pr-pretty shy. But this is not a rigid rule, so if it makes more sense with your character to do it your way, I think that’s fine.


  2. how about if there are more than two letters … should it be:
    colloquia-colloquialism or should it be with an em dash? colloquia– colloquialism —- Or do we only use en dash for stutters and never em dash? Please help, thanks.


    • I don’t know if there is a 100% right answer for this. People may handle this situation in different ways. If it were me, I would still use the hyphen. But it there were a long enough pause, I would use ellipses.


  3. Have you noticed there seems to be a new trend or meme on things like comment boards and social media. People are text stuttering and also repeating whole words for no apparent reason. Usually it’s combined with an insult.


  4. Do you have a source for these stuttering guidelines? Not doubting, would just like to peruse them and have a source to present to my own clients should they ask why I made an edit.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. What would you say to this use:
    Simmer d…d-own, Gail.
    For two letter words, it would be:
    There’s only one smart thing to d…do, which is to let it g…go.

    as opposed to:
    Simmer d-down, Gail
    There’s only one smart thing to d-do, which is to let it g-go.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Please consider how it would feel to read this as a disabled person with a speech impediment. If you find reading about such people annoying, maybe the book just isn’t for you.

    Also the thing about stammering on the first sound just isn’t true. The stammerers I’ve met can be hung up on specific sounds, regardless of where in the word it is.


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