The Said Debate - Dialogue Tags

Where do you lie on the debate on dialogue tags? Do you find it tedious to only use said and asked? Or do you think that using words like wailed, screamed, etc, is an undeniable offense to writing?

How do you feel about dialogue tags as a writer? As a reader?

I ask this because originally I would use dialogue tags such as screamed, wailed, etc… but as I researched some more on writing and eventually got back into it, I began only using said and asked.

Though I admit using only said and asked felt strange and foreign at first - probably due to my original preference of using other dialogue tags - it slowly grew on me.


Both! Neither approach is inherently wrong, but neither is perfect either. I find a mix of using said (modified with adverbs and description as necessary) and more specific dialogue tags when I need the emphasis works best for me


I’m not very adept at writing, but I have seen that using too many varying dialogue tags isn’t the best idea.

Personally, I say use it liberally. One of the articles I read about dialogue is that you should be careful with the adverbs you use with “said” and “asked”. If you put down, “said softly”, then it might be better to just use “whisper”. It’s better to write “yell” instead of writing, “saying angrily and loudly”.

Not that using adverbs for such isn’t okay once in a while, but it’s best to convey the tone for the dialogue using the words or the content of the speech. If you have to add a dialogue tag for it, though, then be careful. I’d say use ask and said often, but in some cases, it’s better to just say “wail” or “scream” if you absolutely have to.


I see, thank you for you input @Celtic_Rune @chocolatemix

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I’ve read somewhere that unless the tone of the dialogue doesn’t come through in the actual text, you can use (or rather, are encouraged to use) dialogue tags other than ‘said.’ I’d say use them if you need the line to stand out. These dialogue tags draw attention to themselves, and this can add or detract from the story.

I have stated before that I dislike the word said. I do feel that I should clarify a bit. I dislike the word said when it is overused in a book. If all anyone does is ‘said’, then it begins to feel like everyone is speaking in monotone. As long as there are moments when other speaking terms are used like muttered or complained, then I’m fine with said. But only if it isn’t the only option utilized. It feels lazy to me otherwise.

“I don’t care either way,” Bob shrugs and scratches his nose.

Edit: And why am I replying to you, @EclecticEccentric?
'tis supposed to be a reply to all.

This is incorrect punctuation. It is actually a good example to use for times when ‘said’ (or a synonym) can be omitted since it is clear who is speaking the dialog, but Bob can’t ‘shrug’ words out of his mouth as the comma implies.

Example: "That's a funny thing," I frowned.

You can see it reads awkwardly. You can’t ‘frown’ vocal dialog. It should be a period instead.

"That's a funny thing." I frowned.

You said something and then you frowned. Or, if you prefer simultaneous action: "That's a funny thing," I said, frowning. So now you’ve said something while frowning.

So in your example, it would be:

"I don't care either way." Bob shrugs and scratches his nose.


"I don't care either way," Bob said, shrugging and scratching his nose.



“I don’t care either way.” Bob shrugs and scratches his nose.


Yay! Learn something nude every day, I say.

To focus back on the topic, I use ‘said’ and ‘asked’ only when the speaker is not clear. If only two people are talking, it can often be omitted. If three or more, you have to make it clear who is saying what, and ‘said’ or ‘asked’ are words almost completely bypassed by the brain of the common reader – all most readers look for is the name or description of the speaker to attribute the dialog.

Therefore, when you don’t use ‘said’ it should be meaningful. I personally really only use other words when I want to convey a change in volume or emotion and even then I keep to simple words as to not pull the reader from the story.

Some words I occasionally use are:

replied, explained
ordered, commanded
yelled, shouted, shrieked
whispered, muttered, murmured
cried, whimpered, wailed

Some words I stay away from entirely because they break immersion:

interjected, ejaculated, mentioned, enunciated, articulated, chattered, opineed, reasoned, insinuated

These words are too academic for effortless reading. You can technically write "Those birds are following us," he hypothesized. But honestly why would you?


I love learning something nude c:

As for the structure you showed previously, it never occurred to my mind. It’s as if my brain is automatically set up so every “quotes” should be followed by a comma and something about the speaker (if that makes sense).

I think I have a lot of quotes on my WIP that need to be changed :sweat_smile:

To write a mad-scientist character, of course!

I remember once being told “Never use ‘said’. Always try to find an alternative word for it.” As a child, I guess this was because most kids would just use ‘said’ for all dialogue, and the teacher wanted to see some variety. As an adult though, I find this pretty much impossible.

People don’t always scream or shout or whisper or demand or implore or taunt or tease or inquire. Sometimes they just… Say :yum:

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I feel that if it’s a common word that adds something to the meaning (e.g. “asked”, “screamed”, “whispered”) then it’s fine. If it’s a rarer word (especially if used devoid of the correct context), then it suggests that you just randomly chose it from the thesaurus, and don’t actually know what it means… :sweat_smile:

If you’re not sure of the exact usage of a word, it’s probably better to just use “said” instead.


Almost everything I used are said and asked (with some explained and whispered). That being said, I use it sparingly. A lot of the time, dialogue tags are not really needed to follow the flow of the discussion. An example from my game:

It includes: 1 ask, 1 say, 1 explain, 5 untagged.

“If you get an opening, do you think you can hurt him?” you ask, pulling out your gun.

Your gun, while top of the line, is just an energy caster. You can hurt people, stun them, maybe even kill them if you ever turned the dial up to the maximum setting—but it wouldn’t even tickle Psychopathor. Nothing you have done so far has been able to breach that armor.

Steel was the one among you who had a shot at actually hurting the old monster. His armor is equipped with ordnance almost as heavy as Psychopathor’s: the smoking hole in the old monster’s shoulder is testament to that. That is also why Steel was taken down.

Ortega might not be playing in the same weight class with ${his} electric blasts, but…

“I’m almost out of juice, but if I can get in close, I can short out his armor now that Steel has breached it.” Ortega flexes ${his} hands, lightning playing around them. “And I bet I can dodge faster than he can aim.”

“You can’t,” you say, shaking your head. “That plasma cannon he’s lugging around doesn’t rely on his reflexes alone.”

“What do you mean?”

“It’s got an organic telepathic interface. The aiming mechanism is controlled by a pentacle of linked rodent brains. Telepathic rodent brains. Rats, I think.” In fact, you can feel them scurrying on the edges of your mind; the only reason they haven’t found your position yet is that you keep redirecting their attention. But they are growing wise to your manipulations, and you can’t keep this up forever.

“What?” Ortega gives you a blank look.

“It can sense where you’ll be before you’re there,” you explain, hiding your smile.

“I thought that was your thing, Sidestep.” Ortega is one of the few who know the secret of your martial prowess.

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I haven’t gone through to check this, but I suspect my most common approach isn’t to use words for “said” at all. I prefer a line of dialogue to be followed by a description of what the speaker does after speaking or is doing while they speak.

I don’ t like the “only use said” style dogma–why not make use of the richness of English here?-- though I’m happy with “use alternatives reasonably sparingly”.


@EmperorHeartless - I’m late to your thread but I bring an offering that should be a valuable resource for you and others concerned about the “said” rule of writing.

Here is a link I use to help myself with this rule and figuring out when to break it: September C Fawkes Article

The rule itself (using dialogue tags) has been explained above pretty thourally so, I’m going to get into the why it is a rule and when to break it - the specifics will all be found in the link.

Why this is a “rule”: This rule is preached to beginning and intermediate writers because dialogue tags are often nuetral.

Sometimes adverbs are used in furtherence of interpretation. - specefically to show how to read and interpret the words.

Even with the positives provided with this rule, there are legitimate reasons to break it.

1st - For clarity’s sake:

2: To keep the right pacing: Sometimes “showing” takes way too long and by telling you keep the reader engaged and focused:

3: Specificity and emphasis: Once in a while, being specific and focused can convey character development and mood beyond a doubt.

The key here is exactly what @Havenstone says: Use of these sparingly to avoid overuse.

There are some people that intentially avoid using dialogue tags and Stephanie goes into detail her copy-editing experiences with this in the linked article - usually it is a stylistic preference that dictates the acceptance of this usage or non-usage in this case.

I would ask @Fiogan or other copy editors (or your specific project manager if accepted or publication) their take on not using dialogue tags at all before never actually using them.


Not wearing much today?

I still prefer the time old classic of “Harry ejaculated”

Ok now off the toilet humor, it depends on your voice as author and the pov the story’s through.

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