I recently edited a book in which there was a character who stuttered when he became anxious. (I happen to do this myself.) 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.”
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 a book editor who knows all the little tips and tricks that will make your manuscript look good. Learn more about how she can help you here.