Specifically, how to describe a person's voice or tone of speaking, and ideas on how dialogue should be formatted.

  • Could you give an example of where you're having trouble with this? "Tips on X" is fairly broad.
    – Standback
    Jun 23 '16 at 7:12

In school, lots of us were taught to avoid 'said'. This is really terrible advice. In modern writing, you should definitely not look for fancy alternatives to 'said'.

'Said' is simple, effective, and does its job without distracting from your story. There's a good article on TV Tropes which explains more.

The best tip I have is to write dialogue that speaks for itself. Convey your character's tone, mood and subtext through well-chosen actions and body language. Instead of telling us how your character 'snorted [whatever] angrily', show us her fist slammed into the wall.

On punctuating dialogue, I really like this blog post. The author made some follow-up posts, too, which are linked at the bottom.

Hopefully that helps?


Well, to format and describe dialogue are two different topics, but on describing dialogue - as in choosing whether to use "said" or another word, or adding a description to that, it's mostly about how you imagine it being said. For example:

Sally said, "Don't make me go to school today."

That's dialogue on a very basic level. It doesn't portray any emotion, or depth. It's only telling exactly what she said, not how she said it.

With describing dialogue the first question you can ask is how is it said? and then you can ask What emotion is it being said with?. That's where the description comes in.

It's good to vary the words you use and not use "said" too much, though there is nothing wrong with using it. If you google alternates for said you'll probably get a ton of websites, but this one was one of the first hits: http://www.spwickstrom.com/said/


Sally pleads, "Don't make me go to school today," with a huge pout and watery eyes.

As for formatting you can think of it like an equation:

Character + word for said + "what they are saying" + description of how it's being said

Though the character + word for said can go at the beginning, middle, or end of the phrase.

Another thing to remember with formatting is to start a new paragraph whenever a different character is speaking. As a final example:

"I'm sorry sweetie," Sally's mom begins in a no-nonsense tone, "But, you have to go school today."

"But, why Mommy?" Sally cried, the tears breaking loose and streaming down her face.


Those "said" tags are not really meant to be read and parsed. They're meant to be nearly invisible, just keeping the reader oriented about who's speaking. Descriptive ones make the reader pause a bit and understand the tag when they're just trying to read the dialog. So avoid non-"said" tags when possible. (And avoid using "said" with an adjective at all costs, he added quietly.)

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