Content of the material
- Alcohol and Self-Regulatory Control of Behavior
- 11. Guess what? This drunk hates [insert person here]
- Learn About Lighthouse
- How to Write Drunk Dialogue
- Ask the person a question
- Lower Inhibition
- Different Kinds of Drunks
- Flirty Drunk
- Mean Drunk
- Happy Drunk
- Sentimental Drunk
- Sad Drunk
- All of the Above
- 15. Drunk people are all secretly Beyoncés backup dancers
Alcohol and Self-Regulatory Control of Behavior
When someone drinks alcohol, you’ll likely notice that they become less inhibited. Someone who is drinking is more likely to shout, run, dance, sing, or do any of a number of things that they would likely never think about or at the least do more cautiously, when sober. At the same time, alcohol causes motor control loss, so that those same activities become less controlled and graceful, something that the person might even be embarrassed to see themselves doing. But, why do they do it?
This effect is known as impairment of evaluative cognitive control, where neurotransmitters and electrical signals in the brain slow down or even stop in some cases. In one study, it was shown that the largest influencing factor behind lowered inhibition when drinking is a reduction in Negative Affect, or memories and emotions relating certain behavior to negative effects such as stress, embarrassment, or pain. A person with inhibited negative affect isn’t associating anything they say with a possible negative outcome, they’re just saying it.
11. Guess what? This drunk hates [insert person here]
Yes, my drunk friend here hates [insert person here]. I know because there's always some drunk friend that says it any time she's had a couple of margaritas. However, I am the only person that ever remembers she said it.
Learn About Lighthouse
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How to Write Drunk Dialogue
There are many different options when it comes to writing drunk dialogue, but which one you choose could be a matter of personal preference, the degree to which your character is intoxicated, and the type of character getting drunk. Some people slur more than others, while other people mash words together, so you might end up using multiple different options for different characters.
The first thing that you need to understand about drunk dialogue (before you worry about formatting it) is that the way your characters structure their sentences and express their thoughts could be quite different from how they usually do. Drunk people tend to stop speaking mid-sentence, or jump to a different topic without much warning. It’s also common for people to repeat themselves, raise their voice, or share opinions that they probably shouldn’t. Though a character normally wouldn’t dare to spill someone else’s secret or share their own secretly held beliefs, those things might just slip out after a little bit of alcohol.
Now, on to actually writing the dialogue.
One of the techniques you could utilize is probably one you’ve seen in other stories before. You could simply write out the words as they would sound slurred out by a drunk person. As long as the misspellings you’ve chosen for the words are recognizable and make sense, then you should be fine. It’s common for drunk people to drag out the “s” sound into “sh,” so that’s a good place to start. Just be careful about making sure the words are identifiable even after you butcher the spelling. Here’s an example:
“You’re being… ridicu-lush… ’m not that drunk…”
Another technique you could use is to smash two or more words together to further emphasize the slur and change in the character’s behavior. For example:
“Whatcha got there? ‘Nother drink? You ‘bout’a get hammered!”
In this case, “whatcha” and “‘bout’a” are compounded versions of “what do you” and “about to.” The meaning of the sentence is still clearly conveyed to readers, so it’s a good way of making the drunk dialogue stand out without making it unreadable.
Another option is to break up the character’s dialogue with ellipses, and even litter a few hiccups in between their words. This is a good option for combining with some repetition as well. As long as you don’t overdo it with the hiccups (as a lot of writers do), you should be fine. This would look something like this:
“I don’t… I don’t know if I… hic… if I wanna go…”
As with any dialogue, if you aren’t sure about what you wrote, just read it out loud. Try to embody the character, and act their dialogue out. If it doesn’t sound right after you’ve said it, then you can reevaluate it and make changes to it. That’s the best way to find out if it sounds like something someone would actually say.
Ask the person a question
If you want to confirm if a person is intoxicated or not, then simply ask how much they have drunk tonight. They would either say that they haven’t drunk at all or give an unimaginable, way – beyond – earthly – reason answer. Their speech and lack of word coordination may also be a clear sign that the person has been drinking.
A person who is drunk has lower inhibition and often ends up saying something which he / she wouldn’t have said during their sober times. Sometimes a drunk person may bad mouth another person or fight with someone, which they regret later.
Also, a drunk person might tell even his/her hidden feelings in front of another person.
Different Kinds of Drunks
First things first: getting drunk does not magically change someone’s personality. Alcohol amplifies personality traits that a person already has, but it won’t make someone act wildly out of character. So, a person who is ordinarily angry will be even more aggressive when drunk. A person who is often sad and lethargic will become even more depressed after more than a few drinks.
That also means that alcohol is good at revealing a person’s natural temperament, so mysterious or two-faced characters may reveal more about their true selves when under the influence of alcohol. In addition to that, alcohol blurs inhibitions and critical thought, so a character that is ordinarily reasonable may be more receptive to bad ideas after they have had a few drinks.
A character’s mood before they start drinking can also have an effect on how they behave once drunk, as well as their reason for drinking. If a person is drinking to have fun, they would naturally behave differently from someone who is drinking to cope with anger issues or a traumatic experience.
(Writing characters with anger issues can also be a struggle, but if you want some help with that, I have another article on that topic: Writing a Character with Anger Issues.)
With that said, there are a few different ways that drunk people tend to behave. Some people will claim that there are officially four types of drunks, but I believe that to be trendy pseudoscience. The ways people behave while drunk are as varied as the ways they behave while sober, and no two people are exactly alike.
However, if you’re looking for ideas to get started, here are some of the top tropes. Don’t feel like you need to be constrained to just one choice, though. Many people experience several mood swings and behavioral changes as the night goes on, especially if they continue to drink. Combinations could also be fun to play with if you could make it work for the character.
A flirty drunk is a person who takes every opportunity to flirt with those around them. They may wear progressively less clothing as time goes on, and their sole goal is usually to get someone in bed before the end of the night. However, there are more benign flirty drunks, who really have no intentions behind their flirty behavior other than to chat and have a good time in the moment.
This trope is pretty common, since it’s a good one to use for comic effect. It’s also great for making other characters uncomfortable, or getting the main character in trouble for flirting with someone’s significant other. This is also a fun trope to combine with others, so play around with it a little.
Some people become much more hostile when intoxicated, and use everything as an excuse to start a fight. They may yell, break things, hurt themself, or start throwing punches. Really, they are likely to say and do whatever they want, regardless of who would be hurt.
This type of trope is commonly used to create characters that act as abusive parents or spouses, but there are more ways to apply this kind of trope. A small, mild-mannered woman could become quite fighty after a few drinks, and a young businessman could develop a rather sharp tongue once he’s had a couple whiskeys. Try to deviate from the stereotypes to disrupt your reader’s expectations.
You should try to find a good balance between surprising your readers, and not letting your characters behave in inconsistent ways.
A person that regularly breaks down into fits of giggles while drinking tends to be labeled as a happy drunk. These people tend to crack jokes and laugh often, finding even mundane things to be either fantastical or hilarious.
Happy drunks are a common choice in fiction for comic relief, since a goofy drunk can bring a smile to anyone’s face—as long as they’re written well. As you can probably guess by now, I’m a fan of subverting expectations, so play around with the idea of making more stoic or rough characters get a little goofy when they’re drunk. It’s a fun way to reveal a more playful side of their personality they could be concealing, for pride or reputation’s sake.
This is also the category that I usually fall into when I’m drunk, so I can attest: everything does get hilarious. It’s easy to get overcome with giggles at absolutely anything.
People that use alcohol as an excuse to express how much they appreciate everything are referred to as sentimental drunks. They often reminisce about the past, apologize for past mistakes, and repeat the phrase “I love you guys” or some variation of that all night long. They can get teary-eyed when offered even the smallest compliment or bit of assistance, and they tend to get physically clingy to their friends—and even strangers.
Sentimental drunks are fairly common, in both real life and in fiction. Including it in your story can create an opportunity to reveal a lot about your characters and their pasts, too. A character may express remorse for doing something that the other characters didn’t know they were responsible for, or they could confess to having a long-time crush on another character. There are tons of possibilities!
A person drinking for the wrong reasons—such as to forget a bad experience, to numb their senses, or to cope with a loss—will usually end up behaving melancholically when intoxicated. Typically, if a person is feeling sad before drinking, they will still be sad after drinking too.
Sad drunks typically hang out in a corner alone, knocking back drinks just for the sake of not being sober. They tend to slur more, and can break down into incomprehensible sobs at any moment. Other times, they may just brush off anyone that approaches them until they inevitably drink themselves to unconsciousness.
I probably don’t have to point this out, but this trope is everywhere. The main hero loses a loved one and drinks at a bar to forget (before getting his inevitable heroic wake-up-call to get his life back together again). A retired hero (superhero, detective, cop, etc) drinks alone at a bar, pretending he never was the hero people claim he is. Or, better yet, a story ends with the main character having a drink alone after losing everything at the end of the story (but only to set up the sequels). The point I’m trying to make is that this trope is just a little tired.
If you want to avoid clichés like the ones above, then you really need to dive into the experiences of the character. Explore in-depth their thoughts and feelings, and linger over things that they’re conflicted about. Make the scene mean something both for the readers and the character, otherwise, it won’t feel like anything more than just a trope.
All of the Above
Remember these are tropes, and that most people exhibit all or several of these types of behaviors. Some people display behaviors from multiple different tropes simultaneously, like sad and mean, while others cycle through them multiple times for as long as they’re intoxicated. These are also not all of the possibilities!
Here are some additional drunk personality tropes:
- The philosophical drunk
- The annoying drunk
- The violent drunk
- The childish drunk
- The messy drunk
- The mom-friend drunk
- The anarchist
- And many many… many more.
Remember that even drunk, characters should still behave like individuals. These are just ideas to help you figure out how your character could behave while under the influence of alcohol, but they are not intended to dictate or restrict how your character can act. All your characters should be unique, sober or not.
Write out a few short stories for fun that feature your characters getting drunk in different settings to try to figure out what feels right for them. Putting your ideas in practice is a great way of finding out what works and what doesn’t—before you put it in your story.
15. Drunk people are all secretly Beyoncés backup dancers
Like that guy from that probably stolen Dane Cook sketch, drunk people just "gotta dance." A couple beers and everyone is oblivious to their surroundings. They are in a zone. They are the essence of dance. And I am unable to unsee it.
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