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 selection 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 components of voice may also be important. It will be strange, for instance, for a character to ‘sneer’ the words since the word ‘sneer’ connotes contempt which is contrary to love‘ I love you.

Given that you will find countless verbs that will substitute for ‘said,’ in the event you simply find a stronger, more emotive one and employ that?

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

1. Use all dialogue tags sparingly

The difficulty with dialogue tags is they draw awareness of the author’s hand. The more we read ‘he said’ and ‘she said’, the greater amount of we’re alert to 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 associated with the conversation that is same

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

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

“Apparently not,” he replied.

Now compare this towards the following:

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

“Well I wasn’t listening, was I!”

For a few, it is a question of stylistic preference. Even so, it’s difficult to argue that the first version is better than the next. Within the second, making glaring an action in the 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 in the beginning, we don’t need certainly 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, when you look at 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 and we also can infer the character is still 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 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, choices for said can tell the reader:

  • The individual emotional or mental states of this conversants
  • The degree of ease or conflict within the conversation
  • What the relationship is a lot like between characters (for example, if one character always snaps in the other this can show that the character is dominanting and perhaps unkind towards the other)

Listed here are dialogue words you need to use rather than ‘said’, categorised by the type or form of emotion or scenario they convey:


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


Consoled, comforted, reassured, admired, soothed.


Shouted, yelled, is ninjaessays legit 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.

Making up:

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:

  • Too many could make your dialogue start 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 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 together with dialogue tags. Yet the characters feel a little like talking heads in jars. Your characters have bodies, so be afraid to don’t 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 fact is given that I’ve had time I observe that maybe it’s not planning to work out. But let’s not be hasty,” he said, clearly planning to control her retreat, too.

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

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

    The dialogue is interspersed with setting in the second example. The way the characters engage with the setting (the lady turning to face 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 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 produce deeper, more exchanges that are layered.

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