Dialogue Tags: When “Said” Doesn’t Say Enough [Infographic]

dialogue tag

While adverbs and passive voice seem to be the primary targets of literary disdain and unchained vitriol, a close third might be the imaginative use of dialogue tags. As a creative writer, especially as a storyteller, you may have a desire to spread your literary wings and find expressive words that convey something deeper and immerse your reader, like Harry Potter falling into a memory in the Pensieve.

So why use “said” when your character chortled? Or maybe she guffawed. Or did he exclaim!

As a general rule, “said” is usually the best solution when attributing a statement to a character. But, there are times in your book or short story — or journalistic/nonfiction report — where a more specific qualifier would do a lot to paint a complete picture. For those times, the infographic below might help you land on that perfect word.

Produced by the folks at ProofreadingServices.com, this infographic is your thesaurus-at-a-glance for dialogue tags and other means of expressing the tone of a statement. For my own writing, I find that dialogue tags are often unnecessary once the characters in a conversation are established or a source is being repeatedly quoted. But, even so, maybe there really is a time when your protagonist natters, your villain vociferates, and a secondary character asseverates.

Or is there?

dialogue tags

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  1. “Using a unique tone”?

    A distinct tone is what they mean. Unique means one-of-a-kind. To gasp or croak or coo is not to use a unique tone. Funny that this is from a proofreading service, specifically to increase vocabulary and they commit the common misuse of “unique.”

  2. Some of the suggestions here should not be used as they do not denote speech, eg ‘coughed’.’sniffed’, ‘lamented’, ‘guffawed’.

    When writing I use either no attribution or use ‘said’, ‘replied’, ‘answered’, or ‘asked’. When judging writing competitions I always look unfavourably over excessive use of other attributions, and mark the piece down accordingly. Thanks for tis article, though, as it gives food for thought.

  3. Personally speaking I find much of today’s writing in novels to be generic. I feel that I’m left out of the scene on many occasions because so much fat is cut out in the editing. Give me old fashion detail and drawl and you will have me engaged in the story.


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