Tags (like name tags) identify. A dialogue tag is set 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 aspects of voice may also be important. It could be strange, as an example, for a character to ‘sneer’ the words since the word ‘sneer’ connotes contempt which is contrary to love‘ I love you.
Given that you can find countless verbs that will 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 a few tips for using dialogue tags such as said and its own substitutes well:
1. Use all dialogue tags sparingly
The situation with dialogue tags is they draw awareness of the hand that is author’s. The greater we read ‘he said’ and ‘she said’, the greater we’re alert to the writer creating the dialogue. We see the author attributing who said what – it lays their hand that is guiding bare. Compare these two versions of this conversation that is same
“I told you already,” I said, glaring.
“Well I was listening that is n’t was I!” he said.
“Apparently not,” he replied.
Now compare this into the following:
I glared at him. “I told you already.”
“Well I wasn’t listening, was I!”
For many, it’s a case of stylistic preference. Even so, it is hard to argue that the version that is first better than the next. Into the second, making glaring an action in place of tethering it to your dialogue gives us a stronger feeling of the characters as acting, fully embodied beings.
As it’s clear the glaring first-person ‘I’ may be the character speaking at first, we don’t need to add ‘I said’. The strength of the exclamation mark within the second character’s 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, within the first speaker’s retort, we don’t need a tag telling us his tone (that it’s curt, sarcastic, or hostile). The brevity, the fact it’s only two words, conveys his tone therefore we can infer the smoothness continues to be mad.
Using tags sparingly allows your reader the pleasure of imagining and inferring. The reader gets to fill in the blank spaces, prompted more subtly because of the clues you leave (an exclamation mark or a pointed, cross phrase).
Join Now Novel’s 4-week course, how exactly to Write Dialogue, for detailed guidance on formatting, creating subtext and context, and much more. Get detailed feedback on your final assignment.
2. Use ‘said’ sparingly, other words for said more so
The word ‘said’, like ‘asked’, gives no personality and colour to a character’s utterance. In conversation between characters, options for said can tell the reader:
- The patient emotional or mental states regarding the conversants
- Their education of conflict or ease when you look at the conversation
- What the partnership is similar to between characters (for instance, if one character always snaps at the other this will show that the type is dominanting as well as perhaps unkind to the other)
Listed below are dialogue words you should use rather than ‘said’, categorised by the sorts 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 a great many other words for said, remember:
- Way too many could make your dialogue begin to feel like a compendium of emotive speech-verbs. Use colourful dialogue tags for emphasis. They’re the salt and spice in dialogue, not the meal that is whole
- Use emotive dialogue tags for emphasis. For instance if everything happens to be placid and a character suddenly gets a fright, here will 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 expressed words themselves plus the dialogue tags. Yet the characters feel similar to talking heads in jars. Your characters have bodies, so be afraid to don’t use 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 seriously considered it yet. The truth is given that I’ve had time I note that maybe it is not planning to work out. But let’s not be hasty,” he said, clearly attempting to control her retreat, too.
“That’s not that which you said yesterday.” She hesitated, walked and turned to your window.
“Well I hadn’t seriously considered it yet.” He stepped closer. “The truth is now that’ I’ve had time I see that maybe it is not going to work out. But let’s never be hasty.” He reached out to place a hand from the small of her back.
The dialogue is interspersed with setting in the second example. The way the characters build relationships the setting (the lady turning to manage the window, for example) reveals their emotions mid-dialogue. The movement and gesture conveys similar feelings into the first dialogue example. Yet there’s a clearer sense of proximity and distance, of two characters dancing around each other’s words, thoughts and feelings.
Vary the 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 produce deeper, more exchanges that are layered.
Join Now Novel to get feedback that is constructive your dialogue while you grow and improve.