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 components of voice will also be important. It might be strange, for instance, for a character to ‘sneer’ the text since the word ‘sneer’ connotes contempt which is contrary to love‘ I love you.
Given that there are countless verbs that may take the place of ‘said,’ should you simply find a stronger, more emotive one and use that?
Not always. Here are a few strategies for using dialogue tags such as for example said and its substitutes well:
1. Use all dialogue tags sparingly
The problem with dialogue tags is they draw attention to the author’s hand. The greater we read ‘he said’ and ‘she said’, the more we’re aware of the author creating the dialogue. We see the writer attributing who said what – it lays their hand that is guiding bare. Compare these two versions associated with same conversation:
“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 to the following:
I glared at him. “I told you already.”
“Well I wasn’t listening, was I!”
For many, it is 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 as opposed to tethering it to the dialogue gives us a stronger feeling of the characters as acting, fully embodied beings.
Since it’s clear the glaring first-person ‘I’ could be the character speaking at first, we don’t need to add ‘I said’. The effectiveness of the exclamation mark when you look at the character that is second reply makes any dialogue tag showing emotion (e.g. ‘he snapped’) unnecessary. Given that it’s on a new line, and responds as to what one other said, we realize it is a reply 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 is only two words, conveys his tone and 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 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 way more
The word ‘said’, like ‘asked’, gives no colour and personality to a character’s utterance. In conversation between characters, alternatives for said can tell the reader:
- The individual mental or emotional essay writing service states associated with conversants
- Their education of ease or conflict into the conversation
- What the connection is similar to between characters (for example, if one character always snaps in the other this will show that the type is dominanting and perhaps unkind towards the other)
Here are dialogue words you can make use of instead of ‘said’, categorised because of the type or sort 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.
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:
- Too many will 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 whole meal
- Use emotive dialogue tags for emphasis. For example if everything has been placid and a character suddenly gets a fright, here will be a good location for a shriek or a scream
One problem we often see in beginners’ dialogue is that most the emotion is crammed to the expressed words themselves as well as the dialogue tags. Yet the characters feel a little like talking heads in jars. Your characters have bodies, so don’t be afraid to make use of 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 planning to work out. But let’s not be hasty,” he said, clearly wanting to control her retreat, too.
“That’s not that which you said yesterday.” She hesitated, walked and turned into the window.
“Well I hadn’t thought about it yet.” He stepped closer. “The truth is now that’ I’ve had time I note that maybe it is not likely to work out. But let’s not be hasty.” He reached off to place a tactile hand on the small of her back.
Into the second example, the dialogue is interspersed with setting. The way the characters build relationships the setting (the lady 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 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. Use the content of what characters say, their movement, body language, pauses, and silences, to create deeper, more exchanges that are layered.
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