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When you write a lot of dialogue, it’s easy to find yourself repeating certain verbs to describe the act of speaking. The most common of these verbs, or dialogue tags, is “said,” and many authors would like nothing more than a reliable way to avoid repeating it over and over again.

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What Is a Dialogue Tag?

The portions of sentences that describe speaking are known as dialogue tags. A dialogue tag identifies a person who speaks a line of dialogue, and it frequently describes how they speak. Does the character show emotion? Do they reinforce their words with body language? What mood are they in while speaking? Writers use dialogue tags to describe the context around the words in quotation marks.

As you seek to improve your fiction writing, or perhaps your nonfiction reporting, you’ll want to employ variety in your use of dialogue tags. This means steering away from the word “said” and incorporating more descriptive verbs from the English language.

How to Avoid Overusing ‘Said’

It doesn’t matter whether you’re writing a novel, a short story, fanfiction, or a biography. The same rules you learned in high school still apply to professional writing: When writing dialogue tags, variety is king.

The key to avoiding “said” in your dialogue tags is tailoring your word choice around the specific context of your story. Here is a list of dialogue tags that exploit the potential of English vocabulary and help ensure you won’t have to overuse “said.” If used properly, these dialogue tags are a tool to help you choose the right word for the most specific of dialogue descriptions.

If your speaker is happy or excited, try:

  • Laughed
  • Exclaimed
  • Yelled
  • Gushed
  • Babbled
  • Gulped
  • Entreated
  • Bubbled
  • Chortled
  • Chimed

If your speaker is subdued, try:

  • Sighed
  • Murmured
  • Mumbled
  • Whispered
  • Assented
  • Demurred
  • Disclaimed
  • Insinuated
  • Agreed
  • Relented

If your speaker likes hearing themselves talk, try:

  • Rambled
  • Recounted
  • Declared
  • Babbled
  • Pontificated
  • Held forth
  • Related
  • Continued
  • Emphasized
  • Remembered
  • Concluded
  • Recalled
  • Resumed
  • Noted
  • Rasped

If your speaker is displaying kindness, try:

  • Consoled
  • Soothed
  • Offered
  • Proposed
  • Apologized
  • Reassured
  • Assented

If your speaker shows signs of being upset, try:

  • Whined
  • Cried
  • Yelled
  • Shouted
  • Glowered
  • Spat
  • Bemoaned
  • Pouted
  • Sobbed
  • Blubbered
  • Lamented
  • Jabbed
  • Sneered
  • Hissed
  • Besmirched

If your speaker is trying to influence someone else’s behavior, try:

  • Rebuked
  • Scolded
  • Cajoled
  • Demanded
  • Threatened
  • Declared
  • Ordered
  • Commanded
  • Boomed
  • Maintained
  • Insisted

By using these speech tags, along with other tools like punctuation (exclamation marks, question marks, etc.) and proper prepositions, you can sculpt your story writing to more accurately reflect your character’s actions and the surrounding context. Everyone from young writers to seasoned pros can employ these tools to spruce up their writing.

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