Writing effective, compelling dialogue has multiple elements.
Tags (like name tags) identify. A dialogue tag is group of words following quoted speech (e write my paper 4 me.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 example, for a character to ‘sneer’ the words since the word ‘sneer’ connotes contempt which is contrary to love‘ I love you.
Given that there are countless verbs that will take the place of ‘said,’ should you simply find a stronger, more emotive one and use that?
Not at all times. Check out strategies for using dialogue tags such as said and its substitutes well:
1. Use all dialogue tags sparingly
The issue 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 amount of we’re aware of the writer creating the dialogue. We see the writer attributing who said what – it lays their guiding hand bare. Compare these two versions associated with the 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 into the following:
I glared at him. “I told you already.”
“Well I was listening that is n’t was I!”
For some, it is a question of stylistic preference. Even so, it’s difficult to argue that the version that is first much better than the next. Within the second, making glaring an action rather than tethering it into the dialogue gives us a stronger sense of the characters as acting, fully embodied beings.
As it’s clear the glaring first-person ‘I’ is the character speaking at first, we don’t have to add ‘I said’. The potency of the exclamation mark into 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, 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 therefore we can infer the smoothness is still mad.
Using tags sparingly allows your reader the pleasure of inferring and imagining. Your reader extends 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 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 average person emotional or mental states of the conversants
- Their education of ease or conflict into the conversation
- What the connection is a lot like between characters (for example, if one character always snaps in the other this will show that the type is dominanting and perhaps unkind to the other)
Listed below are dialogue words you should use rather than ‘said’, categorised by the variety 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 will make your dialogue start 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 whole meal
- Use dialogue that is emotive for emphasis. As an example if everything happens to be placid and a character suddenly gets a fright, here could 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 into the expressed words themselves in addition to 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 that which you said yesterday,” she said, her voice implying she was retreating, withdrawing.
“Well I hadn’t seriously considered it yet. The truth is now that I’ve had time I observe that maybe it is 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 towards the window.
“Well I hadn’t thought about it yet.” He stepped closer. “The truth is now that’ I’ve had time I see that maybe it is not going to work out. But let’s never be hasty.” He reached off to place a hand in the small of her back.
The dialogue is interspersed with setting in the second example. The way the characters engage with the setting (the woman turning to handle the window, for example) reveals their emotions mid-dialogue. The movement and gesture conveys similar feelings to your first dialogue example. 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. Use the content of what characters say, their movement, body language, pauses, and silences, to generate deeper, more exchanges that are layered.
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