Characters and Chit Chat

In an attempt to position dialogue as conversational, many writers fall into a trap of inserting throat-clearing words or expressions at the start of characters’ quotes.  All of these words, such as “well,” “uh,” “God,” “umm,” and “so,” among many other culprits, are familiar prompts in actual conversation but they often muddle what should be otherwise sharp narrative dialogue.  It’s fine, of course, to distinguish one of your characters with a tendency to speak with such mannerisms, but when several characters preface their comments with “Well . . . ” then you have a problem.  It can become difficult for readers to distinguish between characters when each of them start their sentences in similar ways.  More to the point, the otherwise unintentional inclusion of meaningless words at the opening of quoted dialogue doesn’t make the narrative appear to be conversational — it makes it distracting, burdensome and slow.  Unless you intend to intentionally use such throat-clearing to stylize one or two characters, it’s better to cut these empty words out of your quotes.