Why You Should Use Said

A summary of why simple dialogue tags and demonstration through action will improve character speech.

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Dialogue tags are not the easiest thing to get right and there is an awful lot of conflicting advice out there. One thing that a lot of people do, especially when starting out, is they use far too many different words in place of said.

Said is a great word to use. Because of the way our brains work, readers will more-often-than-not gloss over it without actually reading it, yet still absorb the information that you, as the writer, are trying to get across. It is one of very few words—also including asked, replied, shouted, and whispered—which disappear on the page.

Alternative words in dialogue tags—such as exclaimed, retorted, chortled, or proffered—will pull your reader out of the story and the flow that they’ve got themselves into while reading. The words themselves become stumbling blocks that trip up the reader.

“I’m sorry,” he panted.

“It’s fine,” she snickered.

Rather than telling the reader with a complex dialogue tag, you can show them with an action instead.

“I’m sorry.” He bent at the waist trying to catch his breath.

“It’s fine.” She wrapped her arm around his shoulders and laughed.

In situations where the dialogue itself conveys enough information about what is going on, or when a simple dialogue tag is enough, said is generally your best bet.

Use simple dialogue tags and show instead of telling by including action with your speech. This will make your writing a lot sharper, cleaner, easier to read and go a long way in improving the overall narrative. Remember, there is nothing wrong with said.

Davina Chime is a Thanet-born hopeless romantic.

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