By Luke Palder
A great story packs meaning into every word, painting the scene as vividly as possible for the reader. Every word should earn its place in the manuscript. English is jam-packed with vocabulary—in fact, it has a larger lexicon than any other language, likely because of its history of mixed Germanic and Romance roots. But what’s the point of having such a massive lexicon if you don’t take advantage of it?
Great writers and editors alike agree that “said” is the most effective dialogue tag, being unobtrusive and succinct, and in a back-and-forth conversation, it can even be omitted safely. However, when you need a dialogue modifier that packs more of a punch in your manuscript, why allow “said” to push out countless more descriptive alternatives like the ones below?
If you’re having trouble finding the perfect dialogue tag, we’ve compiled a list of 476 alternatives to “said.” While there certainly exist more alternatives than these, we can’t fit all of them into an infographic, but this list should give you a great starting point for your writing. Read the list carefully and make your selection wisely, since each word brings with it unique nuances and shades of meaning. To add the maximum impact to your dialogue, you need to choose the right alternatives and use them sparingly. “Fumed” probably isn’t what you’re looking for in your romantic, candlelit dinner scene, and “rejoiced” likely isn’t the right word for a heart-wrenching deathbed scene. (Of course, though, if your story is extremely unique, it might well be.)
Our infographic is divided into categories to help facilitate the selection process. Whether you’re looking for the perfect speech marker for a loud argument or want to concisely describe a shy question, you can probably find the right alternative to “said” in our infographic. Does your protagonist explode at his boss? Does your main character cajole her friends into helping execute her crazy plan? Does your antagonist divulge his master scheme to undermine your hero? Paint the scene properly by choosing the most apt alternative to “said.”
Even if you regularly use “said,” as you should, you can experiment by spicing up your writing with this treasure trove of lexical diversity. If you can’t come up with a good word for your scenario, take a look through our list, and the right one may reveal itself to you. This infographic may also tune you in to valuable words that rarely make their way into your writing—and you may even learn a few new words, too.
With the right speech markers, your dialogue can truly come alive, immersing your readers in the story and conveying subtle hints of meaning missing from “said.” Strong words are the key to a good story, and that’s just as true as ever when it comes to marking speech. So don’t just tell your story: Proclaim the events with confidence, broadcasting them to the world. Cry it out from the mountaintops and whisper it into the wind. Don’t be afraid to occasionally use words other than “said”!
Luke Palder is the CEO of ProofreadingServices.com, a service that has helped thousands of writers improve their work and get it published.