57 Ways to Describe Talking in a Novel

People have lots of different ways to talk. Some use lots of hand gestures, some are clipped, some barely move their faces. In writing, it’s important to include those details–especially if they’re unique–so readers feel more like they’re involved in the conversation. Here’s a list I collected of favorite ways my favorite authors have verbalized ‘talking’ in their novels.

A note: These are for inspiration only. They can’t be copied because they’ve been pulled directly from an author’s copyrighted manuscript (intellectual property is immediately copyrighted when published).


  • rolls eyes up to the right and makes wide hand movements just as he’s about to pontificate (Bill O’Reilly)
  • Nibbled at a fingernail
  • Janice talked so much it was like drowning in a verbal Niagara Falls.
  • Dropping last three words of a sentence to a grumble
  • Buffalo area accent
  • Whistles when s/he speaks s’s
  • His voice trailed off; the conclusions was inescapable
  • “who is it?” a whiskey-soaked voice asked
  • Spoke in a hoarse whisper
  • Made a muffled squeak

  • Said absently
  • Spoke in a voice she couldn’t decipher
  • Voice was clipped and filled with a dark rage
  • Had a little girl voice that stopped just short of lisping
  • hollow voice
  • fists balled tightly, eyes staring blankly
  • She asked between bites of calamari
  • Voice low and gravely
  • Voice cracked and raw
  • Speaking in quiet tones
  • Hadn’t realized she was holding her breath
  • Said coolly
  • Her voice was soft and measured like a guy trying to overcome a stutter
  •  Breathy explosion of words
  • voice detached and clinical
  • voice thick with conviction, guilt
  • Tone weary, but cheerful
  • Dropping into topics she cared passionately about but she didn’t comment
  • His tone stiff and surly
  • British accent that made every word she uttered seem charged with import and authority
  • Voice was pinched
  • His toned walked the line between bitterness and incredulity
  • The irritate tone that men reserve for women they think are slow or stupid.
  • Quite a coincidence, his voice made it clear it was anything but
  • Tone could have frozen peas
  • He could detect fear in her voice, and anger, but also curiosity. Which was what he wanted.
  • Flat and steady, but tight as a plucked wire
  • Voice that could cut glass
  • Said in a calm, unhurried voice
  • Jinn nodded, but it took him a moment to find his voice
  • The tone said order could prevail over chaos
  • Said absently as the printer spun out more paper
  • I beckon Tooley to proceed
  • The playfulness fell away like a discarded cloak
  • A heavy sigh
  • The dry cackle of someone who has outlived her enemies
  • FucknoIdidn’t—delivered as one word
  • No, yes, maybe, I don’t know—Shit! Half-smile in place like a casual piece of armor
  • “I don’t know” Again, too rapid
  • He said it too fast and too loudly
  • She yelped
  • I sense a but coming
  • Yes, she lied
  • Meaningless gibberish
  • Like what, I said around the bite
  • chuckled in spite of himself
  • Conversation with you is like trying to teach someone the recipe for ice water
  • It was clearly one of those weaponized sentences that get flung out to hurt, to end conversations
  • Maybe. She drew out the word and he knew she didn’t believe it.
  • Wished him a perfunctory, Good luck
  • Words were as bracing as a slap in the face
  • Utterances freighted with wit and irony
  • I was 15, as if that explained everything
  • She willed the anger out of her voice.


  • He waited for me to speak
  • seemed about to speak, but the thread eluded him
  • swallowed a string of profanities
  • You lost your ability to hurt me a long time ago—half true.
  • Look this is a two-way street. I want some information. ‘Wrong. I’m a Mack truck and you’re an egg’.
  • Wanted to say ****. Doesn’t say any of that
  • he said with quiet intensity, making eye contact with as many people in the room as he could
  • Anger crept into his voice
  • Bark out critical info in short sharp yelps
  • Tight-lipped
  • Anna waited until he grunted back
  • Anna fished his name out of the fog of conversation
  • He wondered briefly
  • Segued to a different topic,
  • And how about those green beans
  • Voice low, tone uncertain
  • Something like a sigh
  • Words were slurred and lisping
  • Mouth turned up a fraction of an inch
  • Spittle on his lips
  • She refrained from adding, “”
  • “my thinking is”
  • “I’m of the opinion that”
  • his grammar and syntax were good
  • She digressed
  • Her words seemed to lead me close, in hopes I’d provide my own answers
  • The comment wasn’t a question
  • She took his word for it
  • His thin voice took on a pedantic tone
  • The babble of talk died at his entry.
  •  His voice hardened as he spoke
  • The name tasted like a mouthful of food gone bad
  • remark came out of left field, and she could only stare at him
  • The ways she pronounced her vowels, consonants, her syntax, tonal quality of her pronunciations
  • Sentences had a practiced feel, as though she’d said them many times before


  • Flemy voice
  • Woman with a man’s voice
  • -sh comes out as an –s, like ‘negotiations
  • The –s whistles when he says it
  • Chiara always sang when she was happy
  • Chuck Frye, former 2nd best surfer
  • Growing up in communist Poland on a diet of powdered milk, Lord of the Rings and soviet science-fiction

More descriptions for writers:

The collection of over 48

55 Interesting Intel Devices

How to Talk Like a Southerner

Jacqui Murray is the author of the popular Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy. She is the author/editor of dozens of books on integrating tech into education, webmaster for six blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice book reviewer, a columnist for and TeachHUB, Editorial Review Board member for Journal for Computing Teachers, monthly contributor to Today’s Author and a freelance journalist on tech ed topics. You can find her book at her publisher’s website, Structured Learning. 

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42 thoughts on “57 Ways to Describe Talking in a Novel

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  6. Jacqui I love these, a good reminder to be original and listen to people talking when you are out and about. I close my eyes and try to describe how they sound. Always loved to watch, listen and observe. Sometimes I pick up snippets of a conversation that could be the beginning of a story or a way to express the dialogue.


  7. These are great examples. I’m a huge fan of dialogue – it’s probably one of the things I enjoy most about writing – letting my characters find their voice. It’s not easy to describe conversation but, as you’ve proven, there are great examples out there🙂


  8. I love it when you do these, Jacqui. I found your blog in the first place by looking for “horse” behavior. I keep your suggestions in a notebook. It’s a great inspiration to adapt and morph your suggestions. Thanks for sharing.


  9. I don’t know if I’ll use these actually with way you wrote them, but your post has made me more aware of what I need to work on when it comes to descriptive narrative. Thank you for the wake-up call, Jacqui.😀


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