Writing effective, compelling dialogue has multiple elements.

Writing effective, compelling dialogue has multiple elements.

Writing effective, compelling dialogue has multiple elements.

Tags (like name tags) identify. A dialogue tag is group 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 aspects of voice may also be important. It might be strange, for instance, for a character to ‘sneer’ the text ‘I love you’, because the word ‘sneer’ connotes contempt which can be as opposed to love.

Given that you can find countless verbs that can take the place of ‘said,’ in the event you simply find a stronger, more emotive one and use that?

Not necessarily. Check out strategies for using dialogue tags such as for instance said and its substitutes well:

1. Use all dialogue tags sparingly

The situation with dialogue tags is they draw focus on the hand that is author’s. The greater we read ‘he said’ and ‘she said’, the greater we’re alert to the author creating the dialogue. We see the writer attributing who said what – it lays their guiding hand 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 was listening that is n’t was I!”

For many, it’s a case of stylistic preference. Even so, it’s difficult to argue that the first version is a lot better than the next. When you look at the second, making glaring an action in place of tethering it to the dialogue gives us a stronger sense of the characters as acting, fully embodied beings.

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

Similarly, in 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 then we can essaypro discount infer the type is still mad.

Using tags sparingly allows your reader the pleasure of inferring and imagining. Your reader gets to fill in 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 way more

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 mental or emotional states of the conversants
  • Their education of conflict or ease in the conversation
  • What the partnership is much like between characters (for example, if one character always snaps at the other this may show that the type is dominanting as well as perhaps unkind to the other)

Listed here are dialogue words you should use instead of ‘said’, categorised because of the type or sorts 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 many 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 whole meal
  • Use dialogue that is emotive 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 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 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 thought about it yet. The truth is now that I’ve had time I note 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, 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 see that maybe it is not planning to work out. But let’s never be hasty.” He reached off to place a hand on the small of her back.

    Into the second example, the dialogue is interspersed with setting. How the characters build relationships 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 dialogue example that is first. Yet there’s a clearer sense of proximity and distance, of two characters dancing around each words that are other’s 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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