Luckily for authors, there are many different conventions for writing dialog. Unluckily for many readers, a lot of authors don’t take advantage of the whole spectrum! This can lead to repetition, which can turn into distracted or bored readers who start skipping these lines that you have painstakingly written.
We’ve all slogged through things like this before:
“I don’t want to go to the picnic,” her husband said, petulantly.
“It’ll be at the lake,” she said.
He brightened suddenly and said, “I guess I will get to do some fishing after all!”
As you can see, even though I added an adverb (petulantly) to the first instance and changed the structure in the last sentence, it is still reading as redundant and boring.
So what’s a writer to do? The simplest solution is to just substitute a synonym for “said” some of the of the time. Note I said some of the time. Like any approach, it can be overdone, so don’t run off and start find/replacing all of your ‘saids’ right away. (For best dialog, you’ll probably end up deleting at least half of them anyway and replacing them with action tags, but let’s focus on using alternative dialog words for now.)
The English language is incredibly rich, and there are tons of different ways to express feeling, volume, and intent through a variety of words devoted to speech. Let’s try that little exchange between husband and wife again with some synonyms, shall we?
“I don’t want to go to the picnic,” her husband groused.
“It’ll be at the lake,” she reminded him.
He suddenly brightened, exclaiming, “I guess I’ll get some fishing done after all!”
Now isn’t that a WHOLE lot more interesting?
Synonyms for Said
Here is a list that I have created for my own reference, but I’d love to hear more suggestions in the comments if you have any! There is wiggle room here, of course, because a person could groan loudly if you want them to, but I thought some type of division would be helpful.
Loud– shouted, exclaimed, bellowed, screeched, blustered, hollered, wailed, barked, yelped, howled, cried, shrieked, cheered, roared, trumpeted, squawked, yowled, railed, spouted, hooted, ranted, spewed
- Example 1: “I’m innocent!” he bellowed
- Example 2: He bellowed, “I’m innocent!”
Quiet– mumbled, murmured, whispered, squeaked, growled, groaned, moaned, whimpered, wheezed, panted, hissed, grunted
- Example 1: “I didn’t think we would make it,” she wheezed.
Emphatic, but not necessarily raising one’s voice– groused, grumped, sulked, pronounced, demanded, whined, blurted, declared, clucked, fussed, trilled, yammered, snarled, complained, scolded, protested, fussed, fumed, snapped, spewed, spat
- Example 1: “Those canapes are for the guests, Margaret,” my mother scolded. “Leave them alone.”
- Example 2: “But there are so many!” I complained. “They won’t eat them all.”
You may have noticed I did not include any of what I call processional dialog tags, such as began, continued, replied, etc. I will devote another post to these in the future, because they require different punctuation and considerations. I also didn’t include any action tags for the same reason. So come back soon for more examples of dialog soon!