Dialogue Tags Part 1: The “Said” Debate

dialogue_writing_editing_thestoriesthatstaywithyou

Nothing makes me angrier than seeing an infographic full of words someone suggested you should use instead of “said.” Alright, so nothing is a bit strong here, but still. If I’m browsing a Pinterest board and see an infographic like that, I click off. To me, hearing someone say I shouldn’t use “said” when writing dialogue is like a horse training telling me I should walk behind the horse and smack it (albeit, less dangerous). You lose credibility so fast I stop listening. When using dialogue tags, you should use “said” most of the time and I’ll explain why, then list some of the worst (and therefore best) suggestions people honestly thought you should use in place of “said.”

First, I’m going to explain why some dialogue tags make absolutely no sense. Do you ever understand what someone is saying when they are crying or laughing? Have you ever heard your friends growl words? Would you ever describe your two cents in a conversation as “commented” unless it was online? Using some of these dialogue tags are just unnatural. People don’t “howl” or “growl” when they talk, at least not most people. So your characters shouldn’t either.

Now for the scientific argument. Pick up the book closest to you and read any random page with dialogue. Alright, now tell me, how many times did you read “said” or any dialogue tags? You probably have no idea. Actually, you probably didn’t even read the word “said” unless you did a close read. “Said” was most likely on that page, but you didn’t read it. Your brain skipped over “said” and filled it in. Now, if you read the same page and a character “hissed” or “mumbled” instead of “said,” the page reads a lot slower. That’s because it takes longer for your brain to process these words. They make you stop and actually process the word, resulting in clunky reading and dialogue that doesn’t flow if used too often. Using “said” makes dialogue read faster and more naturally. Also for a side note, “asked” is another word the brain more or less skips over when reading. Especially for avid readers.

So, what if you’re sick of said? Then tune in next week to get a list of other ways to indicate who said what other than dialogue tags.

Alright, as promised, here are 25 of the most bizarre suggestions people have honestly suggested you use instead of “said.”

Think, “You did what?” my mother [fill in word here] before reading every word for some interesting sentences.

Amplified
Barked
Blathered
Bleated
Breathed
Bubbled
Burped
Chirped
Clucked
Demurred
Ejaculated
Elucidated
Enunciated
Exploded
Extemporized
Foreshadowed
Gawked
Gurgled
Importuned
Interjected
Resounded
Rumbled
Shot
Trumpeted
Yakked

What do you think? Did I miss any great dialogue tags? What’s the most awkward dialogue tag you’ve ever read?

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