by Terje

Writing effective, compelling dialogue has multiple elements.

Writing effective, compelling dialogue has multiple elements.

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)
  • 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 example, for a character to ‘sneer’ the words ‘I love you’, because the word ‘sneer’ connotes contempt which can be contrary to love.

Given that there are countless verbs that may take the place of ‘said,’ if you simply find a stronger, more emotive one and employ that?

Not at all times. Check out strategies for using dialogue tags such as for example 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 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 the 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 towards the following:

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

“Well I was listening that is n’t was I!”

For many, it’s a matter of stylistic preference. Even so, it is difficult to argue that the version that is first a lot better than the next. In 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.

Since it’s clear the glaring first-person ‘I’ is the character speaking to start with, we don’t need certainly to add ‘I said’. The effectiveness of the exclamation mark into the character that is second 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, into 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 is only two words, conveys his tone so we can infer the type is still mad.

Using tags sparingly allows your reader the pleasure of inferring and imagining. The reader extends 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, alternatives for said can tell the reader:

  • The in-patient mental or emotional states associated with conversants
  • Their education of conflict or ease when you look at the conversation
  • What the connection is similar to between characters (for instance, if one character always snaps during the other this will show that the character is dominanting and perhaps unkind towards the other)

Listed below are dialogue words you can use rather than ‘said’, categorised because of the kind 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.

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 will 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 meal that is whole
  • Use dialogue that is emotive for emphasis. For instance if everything has been placid and a character suddenly gets a fright, here would be a good location for a shriek or a scream
  • One problem we often see in beginners’ dialogue is that every essay writers online the emotion is crammed to the expressed 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 use them. Compare these examples:

    “That’s not what you said yesterday,” she said, her voice implying she was retreating, withdrawing.

    “Well I hadn’t thought about it yet. The stark reality is now that I’ve had time I observe that maybe it is not planning to work out. But let’s never be hasty,” he said, clearly attempting 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 thought about it yet.” He stepped closer. “The facts are now that’ I’ve had time I observe that maybe it is not planning to work out. But let’s never be hasty.” He reached off to place a tactile hand in the small of her back.

    Into the second example, the dialogue is interspersed with setting. The way the characters build relationships the setting (the girl turning to handle the window, for instance) reveals their emotions mid-dialogue. The movement and gesture conveys similar feelings into the first dialogue example. Yet there’s a clearer feeling 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. Utilize the content of what characters say, their movement, body language, pauses, and silences, to generate deeper, more layered exchanges.

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