Tags (like name tags) identify. A dialogue tag is band of words following quoted speech (e.g. ‘she said’), identifying who spoke and/or the way they spoke. Other words for ‘said’ can indicate:
- Volume (e.g. yelled, shouted, bellowed, screamed, whispered)
- Pitch or tone(e.g. shrieked, groaned, squeaked)
- Emotion (e.g. grumbled, snapped, sneered, begged)
The relation between these aspects of voice are also important. It will be strange, as an example, for a character to ‘sneer’ the text since the word ‘sneer’ connotes contempt which is contrary to love‘ I love you.
Given that you will 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 necessarily. Below are a few strategies for using dialogue tags such as said and its substitutes well:
1. Use all dialogue tags sparingly
The difficulty with dialogue tags is they draw focus on the author’s hand. The greater we read ‘he said’ and ‘she said’, the more we’re alert to the writer creating the dialogue. We see the writer attributing who said what – it lays their guiding hand bare. Compare these two versions regarding the conversation that is same
“I told you already,” I said, glaring.
“Well I was listening that is n’t https://essay-911.com was I!” 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 a few, it’s a case of stylistic preference. Even so, it is hard to argue that the first version is much better than the next. When you look at the second, making glaring an action in place of tethering it towards the dialogue gives us a stronger feeling of the characters as acting, fully embodied beings.
Given that it’s clear the glaring first-person ‘I’ may be the character speaking to start with, we don’t want 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. Since it’s on a brand new line, and responds as to what the other said, we realize it’s an answer from context.
Similarly, within 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’s only two words, conveys his tone so we can infer the character is still mad.
Using tags sparingly allows your reader the pleasure of imagining and inferring. The reader extends to fill in the blank spaces, prompted more subtly by 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 personality and colour to a character’s utterance. In conversation between characters, options for said can tell the reader:
- The individual mental or emotional states regarding the conversants
- Their education of ease or conflict within the conversation
- What the relationship is similar to between characters (for instance, if one character always snaps during the other this may show that the character is dominanting and perhaps unkind to the other)
Here are dialogue words you can make use of rather than ‘said’, categorised because of the type or 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 a number of other words for said, remember:
- Way too many will make your dialogue start 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. For instance if everything happens to be placid and a character suddenly gets a fright, here could be a place that is good a shriek or a scream
One problem we often see in beginners’ dialogue is that every the emotion is crammed in to the words themselves therefore the dialogue tags. Yet the characters feel a little like 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 reality is now that I’ve had time I see that maybe it is not going to work out. But let’s not be hasty,” he said, clearly attempting to control her retreat, too.
“That’s not what you said yesterday.” She hesitated, turned and walked towards the window.
“Well I hadn’t seriously considered it yet.” He stepped closer. “The facts are now that’ I’ve had time I see that maybe it’s not likely to work out. But let’s not be hasty.” He reached out to place a hand on the small of her back.
In the second example, the dialogue is interspersed with setting. How the characters engage with the setting (the woman turning to manage the window, for instance) reveals their emotions mid-dialogue. The movement and gesture conveys similar feelings towards 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 generate deeper, more exchanges that are layered.
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