for writers and readers….


letter d

A dialogue tag identifies who is speaking. Used too often and they becomes irritating to the reader with an almost childish repetitive pattern of he said, she said. Too few tags and a reader may get confused and be forced to go back and check who is saying what.
An alternative is to let the action indicate who is speaking as in this example:

“I grew up in this house.” Simon walked over to the window and looked out at the overgrown garden. “It’s all changed, of course.” 

Elmore Leonard, the American novelist and screenwriter, has come up with 10 Rules of Writing.

Rule number 3 states:

Never use a verb other than “said” to carry dialogue.
The line of dialogue belongs to the character; the verb is the writer sticking his nose in. But said is far less intrusive than grumbled, gasped, cautioned, lied.

I agree – except when said sounds silly. For example:

“Help! I’m on fire,” SAID the woman running out of the room.

If you aren’t keen on said, here are a list of alternatives. (To be used with caution.)

Added  Admitted  Advised  Affirmed  Agreed  Announced Answered Approved Argued Assumed Assured Asked

Babbled Bargained Boasted Bragged Burbled

Called Chuckled Claimed Commanded Commented Complained Cried Criticised

Decided Demanded Denied Described Dictated

Emphasised Estimated Exclaimed Explained Expressed


Hinted Hissed Heckled

Garbled Giggled Guffawed Grinned Grunted

Indicated Insisted Instructed

Laughed Lectured Lied

Mentioned Moaned Mumbled Murmured

Nagged Noted Notified

Objected Observed Ordered

Pleaded Prayed Predicted Promised

Questioned Quizzed

Reassured Reflected Related Repeated Replied
Responded Requested Restated Revealed
Roared Ruled

Scolded Screamed Screeched Simpered Shouted
shrieked Slurred Snapped Sneered Snickered
Sobbed Spoke Spluttered Stammered Stated Stipulated Stormed Suggested

Taunted Thought Told

Urged Uttered Vowed

Wailed Warned Whispered

Yelled Yelped

Said is pretty good, isn’t it?

Find Elmore Leonard’s website HERE

8 comments on “D is for DIALOGUE TAGS

  1. Vikki Thompson
    April 4, 2013

    I try to break my dialogue up with my characters actually DOING something while they talk. Great post Bridget 🙂


  2. bridget whelan
    April 4, 2013

    Yes, I think that is probably the best way, and SAID is for the times when that doesn’t work (perhaps in quite a long two hander conversation when you can’t have them do something all the time) unless someone is on fire….

  3. Sydney Katt
    April 4, 2013

    I’m not a fan of using dialogue tags unless it’s one of those snappy conversations where having them perform an action while talking would destroy the pace of the conversation. Anything other than “said” or “asked” feels a little too long-winded in those instances.

  4. bridget whelan
    April 4, 2013

    Yes, I think Elmore’s right about that and so much else…

  5. Murees Dupé
    April 4, 2013

    This is really fantastic advice. I always have a problem with my dialogue and making it read easy. Thank you so much for stopping by my blog.

    • bridget whelan
      April 4, 2013

      Dialogue is hard to get right. It’s pretty unforgiving – one creaky duff note and it leaps from the page shouting for attention. I guess we all have to do the same: practice, practice, practice…

  6. Kate
    April 4, 2013

    I agree that the word said pretty much disappears, but I still like to use other tags (sparingly, of course).

  7. bridget whelan
    April 4, 2013

    Hi Kate,
    this is the one time you want a reader to gloss over what you’ve written, just register the information and keep on reading….

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This entry was posted on April 4, 2013 by in A-Z Challenge 2013 and tagged , , .


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