Palmerston North, New Zealand

Instead of Said

Instead of Said

There is nothing wrong with using the word said in written dialogue. Be careful not to treat the word said as a word to be avoided. Well written dialogue should never rely on tags such as the ones below, but should convey its own attitude. When using words instead of said, be sure you utilize them properly. For example, you cannot laugh and talk, or sneeze and talk at the same time. “That is so funny, laughed Bob,” should not be used. A person can laugh before or after they speak, but not while they speak. Think about how your character is going to speak and the emotion that they are experiencing. Think it out before you write it down. Let me give you some examples. The following sentence does not use the word said:
“I hate you,” spat Bob in disgust. Now think about that sentence. Can a person spit in disgust and speak at the same time?
Watch what happens this time when I use the word said and describe Bob’s actions:
“I hate you,” said Bob as he clenched his fists. His lips snarled with rage as he stormed out the room, vowing never to return.
Here is another example where the word said works just fine:
“Do have some more gravy, Bob,” said Darla, spooning it out herself.
For dialogue to be effective it must appear to be realistic. The person reading your story must believe that your characters actually talk this way. You should use dialogue to reveal insights into characters, set the mood, and even to clarify plot points. I was once told that when writing dialogue, to think of it as action. Use dialogue to make something happen.

You may notice that some words on the list below cannot be used as replacements for said. These words have been added to assist you to enhance your dialogue and make it more descriptive. For example, the word “quietly” cannot be used instead of said, but it can enhance your dialogue.
Ms. Maple covered her lips with her index finger until she had the attention of the entire class. “Let’s use our inside voices,” she said quietly.

The words below are classified by emotion to make the list easier to use. Keep in mind that some words could be used in several categories such as “gasped” which could express either fear or surprise.
Be sure to visit the examples page to see how to use some of these words. The definitions used in the examples came from dictionary.com. Be sure to use your dictionary for more definitions.

Use the list below carefully and remember that there is nothing wrong with using the word said in dialogue.

The emotion of ANGER   ?
accused argued asserted badgered barked
bellowed bickered challenged chided clipped
clucked commanded complained corrected countered
cursed dared demanded disagreed exasperated
exploded gibed goaded growled grumbled
harshly hissed hollered howled huffed
insulted interrupted jeered jibed muttered
nagged objected ordered pestered provoked
quipped raged ranted retaliated retorted
roared sassed screamed scoffed scolded
seethed shot shouted shrieked shrilled
snapped snarled sneered spat spluttered
sputtered stormed swore taunted spluttered
threatened warned yelled    
The emotion of FEAR   ?
babbled begged blubbered choked confessed
croaked denied doubted dribbled fretted
groaned gulped implored moaned panted
pleaded pled prayed quavered slurred
squeaked squealed stammered stuttered whimpered
whined whispered worried    
The emotion of DISGUST   ?
grimaced grunted mocked rasped refused
The emotion of HAPPINESS   ?
approved beamed bubbled cackled chatted
chattered cheered chirped chittered chortled
chorused chuckled complimented congratulated cooed
crowed effused encouraged exulted giggled
gurgled gushed hummed jested joked
laughed praised prattled purred resounded
sang simpered smiled smirked trilled
The emotion of SADNESS   ?
apologized bawled comforted consoled cried
lamented mumbled murmured sighed sniffed
sniffled sobbed spilled wailed wept
The emotion of SURPRISE   ?
bleated blurted burst out coughed exclaimed
gasped marveled perplexed puzzled yelped
Words associated with questions or curiosity   ?
cautioned challenged coaxed hinted pleaded
puzzled queried quizzed wondered worried
Words not associated with any particular emotion   ?
acknowledged acquiesced added addressed admitted
advised affirmed agreed announced answered
articulated asked assured avowed began
bet blurted boasted boomed bragged
breathed broke in bugged cajoled called
cautioned chimed in claimed clarified coached
coaxed commented conceded concluded concurred
confided confirmed considered continued contributed
convinced decided declared defended deflected
demurred described disclosed divulged drawled
echoed ended explained finished gawked
gently gloated greeted guessed hinted
hypothesized imitated implied informed inquired
insisted interjected intoned instructed lectured
lied lisped maintained mentioned mimicked
mouthed mused motioned nodded noted
notified observed offered opined piped
pointed out pondered proclaimed promised pronounced
proposed protested put in questioned quietly
quizzed quoted reasoned reassured recalled
reckoned recounted reiterated related remarked
remembered reminded repeated replied reported
requested responded restated revealed ridiculed
sneezed snickered speculated spoke spluttered
started stated stressed suggested surmised
sympathized teased tempted tested testified
theorized told urged uttered volunteered
vowed went on wheezed wondered yawned
yapped yakked      


8 Responses

  1. […] Source: Instead of Said […]

  2. Very good article. Where are you?

    Sent from Mail for Windows 10

  3. joylennick says:

    Very interesting, Don. It can be confusing though if you read about too many so-called ‘rules.’ Only last week, I read a well-written piece about ONLY using ‘said’ in dialogue. Quite a few authors suggest you write to the best of your own ability, and as long as the grammar is OK, rules are there to be massaged and sometimes broken. One of our most feted authors, Margaret Atwood, has a style all her own. At the end of the day, I suppose, it comes down to taste, and of course how the story-plot, characterisation etc. are handled. Many thanks for the post.,

  4. Paul White says:

    Well said.

  5. spalukaitis says:

    Been looking for something like this for a while now. Thanks for the post.

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