Writing effective, compelling dialogue has multiple elements.

Writing effective, compelling dialogue has multiple elements.

Tags (like name tags) identify. A dialogue tag is set 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 could 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.

Considering the fact 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 always. Below are a few tips for using dialogue tags such as said and its own substitutes well:

1. Use all dialogue tags sparingly

The difficulty with dialogue tags is they draw awareness of the hand that is author’s. The more we read ‘he said’ and ‘she said’, the greater 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 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 to the following:

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

“Well I wasn’t listening, was I!”

For many, it’s a case of stylistic preference. Even so, it is hard to argue that the first version is a lot better than the essay4you 2nd. Within the second, making glaring an action instead of tethering it into the 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 in the beginning, we don’t have 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. Because it’s on a brand new line, and responds to what one other said, we all know it is an answer 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’s only two words, conveys his tone and we also can infer the type is still mad.

Using tags sparingly allows your reader the pleasure of imagining and inferring. The reader extends 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 colour and personality to a character’s utterance. In conversation between characters, alternatives for said can tell the reader:

  • The person mental or emotional states associated with conversants
  • Their education of ease or conflict into the conversation
  • What the connection is like between characters (for instance, if one character always snaps at the other this can show that the smoothness is dominanting as well as perhaps unkind to the other)

Listed here are dialogue words you can use instead of ‘said’, categorised because of the type 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 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 could be a good location for a shriek or a scream
  • One problem we often see in beginners’ dialogue is that all the emotion is crammed to the words themselves additionally the dialogue tags. Yet the characters feel similar to talking heads in jars. Your characters have bodies, so don’t be afraid to make use of 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 thought about it yet. The fact remains now that I’ve had time I note that maybe it’s not going to work out. But let’s not 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 thought about it yet.” He stepped closer. “The truth is now that’ I’ve had time I note that maybe it’s not going to work out. But let’s never be hasty.” He reached out to place a hand from the small of her back.

    Within the second example, the dialogue is interspersed with setting. How the characters build relationships the setting (the girl turning to face 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 sense 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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