3

When writing fiction and dialogue tags, I find myself using the word "said" approximately 1-1.5 times a page (or every 250 words or so), and the word "asked" slightly more.

  • What is (around) the average frequency of the words "said" and "asked" and other common dialogue tags in popular fiction?
  • Is my current rate of said/asked average, below average or above average?
  • Is "said" and "asked" favorable over fancier dialogue tags or should the more elaborate dialogue tags be used more than simple dialogue tags?
  • I realize it all depends on how it's being said and that sometimes elaborate dialogue tags are redundant, but in general what would be recommended?
5

There's no standard number of "saids per page." Use it when you need to let the user know who's talking. Not on every quote, but whenever clarity is needed. (Less often when two people are speaking, more often when more than two are speaking.) Have your readers mark the spots where they get confused about who's saying what.

Don't be shy with them. Readers tend to barely register that word. They're much more interested in the dialog.

1

Text analysis of some standard Gutenberg texts using Mathematica:

100N[Count[#,"said"]/Length@#]&@Quiet@Flatten[#[[1]]&@(ToLowerCase/@DeleteCases[StringSplit@StringReplace[#,Except[Join["A"~CharacterRange~"Z","a"~CharacterRange~"z"]]->" "]," "])&@#&/@StringSplit[#,"' "]]&@Import@#&@"http://www.gutenberg.org/cache/epub/580/pg580.txt"

to calculate the percentage of said in words immediately following closing quotation marks:

Pickwick Papers, Charles Dickens: 43%
Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll: 45%
Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen: 45%

said takes up over 50% of words immediately following closing quotation marks in Harry Potter. Below is a selection of those that are verbs, in case you are in need of inspiration for the remaining 50% (in order of frequency):

said,asked,whispered,muttered,added,shouted,yelled,called,repeated,began,
bellowed,hissed,continued,snapped,gasped,roared,snarled,demanded,mumbled,
pointed,sighed,cried,growled,screamed,murmured,explained,suggested,moaned,
squeaked,breathed,replied,croaked,interrupted,barked,thought,spat,reminded,
grunted,corrected,sneered,pressed,groaned,choked,urged,shot,hesitated,
sobbed,burst,stared,stared,stammered,smiled,informed,indicated,blurted,
admitted,started,shrugged,agreed,advised,waved,warned,squealed,spluttered,
retorted,mouthed,swallowed,persisted,yawned,wailed,thundered,laughed,
gestured,boomed,wondered,whimpered,wheezed,wheezed,screeched,recited,
peered,howled,giggled,cleared,smirked,puffed,pleaded,ordered,nodded,jeered,
exclaimed,enquired,drawled,consulted,begged,answered,announced,yelped,
worried,translated,shuddered,scowled,resumed,remembered,reeled,protested,
prompted,observed,leered,jabbed,invented,interjected,imitated,ignored,
hastened,grinned,faltered,exploded,coughed,contradicted,concluded,clapped,
chuckled,chortled,chanted,wrote,wounded,winked,whined,trilled,swore,stormed,
stifled,stated,snorted,shivered,scrawled,reassured,quoted,promised,pouted,
persevered,instructed,gulped,grumbled,grimaced,frowned,found,faded,erupted,
encouraged,echoed,dismissed,decided,dashed,crooned,convinced,confessed,
commanded,burped,blustered,beckoned,beamed,bawled,appealed
-2

Try to use "said" as little as possible, because said doesn't communicate anything aside from speech.

If they are talking in any particular manner, try to use a different verb to present the way they are talking, like "shouted" or "whispered" or "muttered", so on and so forth.

However, there are times when character really are simply talking, with nothing particularly extraordinary happening in their language (or body language). That is why you shouldn't really count your "saids" through number, and more through scenes. You can have scenes where your character blandly talk to each other, but you should try to make every single scene feel relevant, and present a little bit about your characters.

TL;DR

Don't count number of "saids", count number of scenes where characters are simply "saying" things, as there are many ways to present personality in the speech of a character.

  • 2
    "This is ridiculous," he ejaculated; "the word 'said' becomes more or less invisible in text, but trying to eliminate it results in purple prose. Use 'said' and don't worry about it." – Neil Fein Jul 29 '16 at 19:30
  • I don't understand why this answer get downvoted – Ooker Jul 30 '16 at 9:35
  • 1
    @Ooker, don't worry — this was formerly a common practice, but it's now widely considered to be bad advice. Readers find it distracting. Most succesful modern writers use 'said' freely, and its fancier cousins much more sparingly. This page offers more information if you would find that helpful: tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/SaidBookism – Cakebox Jul 30 '16 at 10:17

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