Writing effective, compelling dialogue has multiple elements.

Writing effective, compelling dialogue has multiple elements.

Tags (like name tags) identify. A dialogue tag is number of words following quoted speech (e.g. ‘she said’), identifying who spoke and/or how they spoke. Other words for ‘said’ can indicate:

  • Volume (e.g. yelled, shouted, bellowed, screamed, whispered)
  • Tone or pitch (e.g. shrieked, groaned, squeaked)
  • Emotion (e.g. grumbled, snapped, sneered, begged)

The relation between these elements of voice will also be important. It will be strange, for example, for a character to ‘sneer’ the words since the word ‘sneer’ connotes contempt which is contrary to love‘ I love you.

Considering that you will find countless verbs that can take the place of ‘said,’ in the event you simply find a stronger, more emotive one and make use of that?

Not always. Here are some tips for using dialogue tags such as said and its particular substitutes well:

1. Use all dialogue tags sparingly

The situation with dialogue tags is they draw attention to the hand that is author’s. The greater we read ‘he said’ and ‘she said’, the greater amount of we’re aware of the writer creating the dialogue. We come across the author attributing who said what – it lays their guiding hand bare. Compare these two versions for the conversation that is same

“I told you already,” I said, glaring.

“Well I was listening that is n’t was I!” http://www.essay-911.com/ he said.

“Apparently not,” he replied.

Now compare this into the following:

I glared at him. “I told you already.”

“Well I was listening that is n’t was I!”

For many, it is a matter of stylistic preference. Even so, it is difficult to argue that the version that is first better than the second. In the second, making glaring an action as opposed to tethering it to your dialogue gives us a stronger sense of the characters as acting, fully embodied beings.

Because it’s clear the glaring first-person ‘I’ could be the character speaking at first, we don’t want to add ‘I said’. The potency of the exclamation mark in the character that is second reply makes any dialogue tag showing emotion (e.g. ‘he snapped’) unnecessary. We know it’s a reply from context because it’s on a new line, and responds to what the other said.

Similarly, in the speaker’s that is first, we don’t need a tag telling us his tone (that it’s curt, sarcastic, or hostile). The brevity, the known fact it is only two words, conveys his tone therefore we can infer the type is still mad.

Using tags sparingly allows your reader the pleasure of imagining and inferring. Your reader gets to fill out the blank spaces, prompted more subtly because of the clues you leave (an exclamation mark or a pointed, cross phrase).

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2. Use ‘said’ sparingly, other words for said more so

The word ‘said’, like ‘asked’, gives no colour and personality to a character’s utterance. In conversation between characters, options for said can tell the reader:

  • The average person emotional or mental states for the conversants
  • The amount of ease or conflict into the conversation
  • What the connection is similar to between characters (for example, if one character always snaps during the other this can show that the smoothness is dominanting as well as perhaps unkind to the other)

Listed below are dialogue words you can use instead of ‘said’, categorised because of the types of emotion or scenario they convey:


Shouted, bellowed, yelled, snapped, cautioned, rebuked.


Consoled, comforted, reassured, admired, soothed.


Shouted, yelled, babbled, gushed, exclaimed.


Whispered, stuttered, stammered, gasped, urged, hissed, babbled, blurted.


Declared, insisted, maintained, commanded.


Sighed, murmured, gushed, laughed.


Cried, mumbled, sobbed, sighed, lamented.


Jabbed, sneered, rebuked, hissed, scolded, demanded, threatened, insinuated, spat, glowered.

Getting back together:

Apologised, relented, agreed, reassured, placated, assented.


Teased, joked, laughed, chuckled, chortled, sniggered, tittered, guffawed, giggled, roared.


Related, recounted, continued, emphasized, remembered, recalled, resumed, concluded.

Despite there being many other words for said, remember:

  • Too many could make your dialogue begin to feel just like a compendium of emotive speech-verbs. Use dialogue that is colourful for emphasis. They’re the salt and spice in dialogue, not the meal that is whole
  • Use emotive dialogue tags for emphasis. As an example if everything happens to be placid and a character suddenly gets a fright, here could be a good place for a shriek or a scream
  • One problem we often see in beginners’ dialogue is that every the emotion is crammed to the words themselves plus the dialogue tags. Yet the characters feel a little like talking heads in jars. Your characters have bodies, so don’t be afraid to utilize them. Compare these examples:

    “That’s not that which you said yesterday,” she said, her voice implying she was retreating, withdrawing.

    “Well I hadn’t thought about it yet. The simple truth is now that I’ve had time I see that maybe it’s not likely to work out. But let’s never be hasty,” he said, clearly planning to control her retreat, too.

    “That’s not that which you said yesterday.” She hesitated, turned and walked to your window.

    “Well I hadn’t thought about it yet.” He stepped closer. “The facts are now that’ I’ve had time I observe that maybe it is not likely to work out. But let’s not be hasty.” He reached off to place a tactile hand regarding the small of her back.

    The dialogue is interspersed with setting in the second example. The way the characters engage with the setting (the girl turning to manage the window, for instance) reveals their emotions mid-dialogue. The movement and gesture conveys similar feelings to the dialogue example that is first. Yet there’s a clearer feeling of proximity and distance, of two characters dancing around each words that are other’s thoughts and feelings.

    Vary the real way you show who’s speaking in your dialogue. Use emotive other words for said to season characters’ conversations. Yet seasoning shouldn’t overpower substance. Utilize the content of what characters say, their movement, body language, pauses, and silences, to create deeper, more layered exchanges.

    Join Now Novel and acquire feedback that is constructive your dialogue while you grow and improve.

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