When writing dialogue, what are some good alternatives to writing "he said" "she said" all the time?


This is actually a tricky situation. Because 'said' is invisible. No one bothers with it, but it tags the speaker nicely. So there are two main schools of thought on this.

  • 'Said is dead'. In this school you avoid 'said' like the plague. There are dozens of other options here. 'Hinted', 'murmured', 'suggested', 'demanded', 'commented', the list goes on.

See Pintrest for one such list.

  • 'Said' should make up 70% of all dialogue tags. Mind you, this is a rule that some literary agents use. Because they are tired of 'hinted' and 'gesticulated' and a whole bunch of other words that are just stand-ins for said, when in fact there's nothing wrong with the word.

Now, as commenters already said, "try to avoid dialogue tags", while a good thought, isn't good for everyone. It depends on how well you can manoeuvre around not needing them. Some like to use this technique:

"What are you doing?" Timmy stood with his hands on his hips, eyes angrier than a rabid dog.

In which it is inferred that the character mentioned in the action is the speaker. But this doesn't always work either, and for those of us that prefer to have one person speak, and have another person do the action in response to what is said... then this becomes annoying. Unfortunately, it's already a well-established convention, so I just have to live with it.

But you know what I find fun to do? Skip all that. In some of my dialogue heavy scenes, I don't put in actions at all. I don't put dialogue tags. Nothing. Just row after row of dialogue, with two or three speakers hashing out whatever they need to talk about.

It's difficult to do so well that everyone knows exactly who's speaking, which is why I only ever put this in well after the first act is concluded, so the reader has the time to get to know the character's motives and speech patterns, but when I feel comfortable with this? Ooh. I get cover ground like I'm a bloodhound on the hunt.

P.S.: nothing wrong with using the person's name, in case there are more 'hes' and 'shes' in the scene.

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