Writing effective, compelling dialogue has multiple elements.

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Writing effective, compelling dialogue has multiple elements.

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 elements of voice read this may also be important. It will be strange, for instance, for a character to ‘sneer’ the text ‘I love you’, considering that the word ‘sneer’ connotes contempt which will be as opposed to love.

Considering that there are countless verbs that may substitute for ‘said,’ if you simply find a stronger, more emotive one and make use of that?

Not always. Here are some strategies for using dialogue tags such as said and its 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 more we read ‘he said’ and ‘she said’, the greater we’re aware of the author creating the dialogue. We come across the author attributing who said what – it lays their hand that is guiding bare. Compare these two versions of this same conversation:

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

“Well I wasn’t listening, was I!” he said.

“Apparently not,” he replied.

Now compare this to the following:

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

“Well I wasn’t listening, was I!”

For a few, it’s a question of stylistic preference. Even so, it is difficult to argue that the version that is first better than the 2nd. Within the second, making glaring an action as opposed to tethering it towards the dialogue gives us a stronger sense of the characters as acting, fully embodied beings.

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

Similarly, when you look at 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 and now we can infer the type continues to be mad.

Using tags sparingly allows your reader the pleasure of inferring and imagining. The 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 your reader:

  • The patient emotional or mental states associated with the conversants
  • The degree of ease or conflict in the conversation
  • What the connection is similar to between characters (for example, if one character always snaps during the other this will show that the character is dominanting and perhaps unkind to the other)

Listed below are dialogue words you can make use of rather than ‘said’, categorised because of the type 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:

  • A lot of can make your dialogue begin to feel 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 dialogue that is emotive for emphasis. For instance if everything happens to be placid and a character suddenly gets a fright, here will be a place that is good a shriek or a scream
  • One problem we often see in beginners’ dialogue is that most the emotion is crammed in to the expressed words themselves additionally 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 what you said yesterday,” she said, her voice implying she was retreating, withdrawing.

    “Well I hadn’t seriously considered it yet. The reality is given 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 attempting to control her retreat, too.

    “That’s not what you said yesterday.” She hesitated, turned and walked to the window.

    “Well I hadn’t thought about it yet.” He stepped closer. “The facts are now that’ I’ve had time I see that maybe it’s not going to work out. But let’s never be hasty.” He reached out to place a hand on the small of her back.

    The dialogue is interspersed with setting in the second example. How the characters build relationships the setting (the girl turning to face the window, as an example) reveals their emotions mid-dialogue. The movement and gesture conveys similar feelings to your 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. Make use of the content of what characters say, their movement, body language, pauses, and silences, to generate deeper, more layered exchanges.

    Join Now Novel and obtain feedback that is constructive your dialogue as you grow and improve.

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