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Long story short: I default to simple words like "Said" in dialogue much too often. I'm hesitant to abuse the thesaurus due to advice I've been given, as well.

Slightly longer version: When I'm writing dialogue it tends to go back and forth with simple descriptors like "He said" and "She replied" much too often. I've been told by a writer I...admittedly don't hold a very high opinion of that if I resort to a thesaurus or "Word things too fancy" people will find me pretentious and widely pan me.

I know it's probably bad advice, and I'd rather seek the advice of people more knowledgeable on the subject.

PS: I do not seek traditional publishing for my writing. I'm taking the path of the "Free Web Novel". I don't know if this actually affects anything, but figured it might be pertinent. Forgive typos I haven't caught, still adjusting to a new keyboard.

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(1) Don't use synonyms for said that describe tone or attitude. "said" is a word that disappears for readers, your worry about it is like self-consciousness: Only you care! Get over it, professionals use it constantly, just pick up any best-seller and look for yourself.

(2) Often, if there are only two people talking, attribution of dialogue is not needed. We know who is talking because conversation (usually) is A, B, A, B, etc. So you only need attribution when that breaks, or I tell students about every fourth or fifth sentence so the reader keeps track of who is who.

This is NOT true when there are three or more characters in a conversation, then you must tell the readers who is speaking, lest they get confused. However, see (3).

(3) Who is talking can be implied by actions. To me this is always preferable, it is a better aid to the reader for them to imagine the scene.

Alice frowned at her cards, then winced and laid down the Jack of Hearts.

Mary dropped the Two of Spades on it, grinning. "Eat that, bitch!"

Alice threw in her hand. "You're too lucky, let's play something else."

Mary laughed, and began gathering the cards. "Okay. Dice?"

(4) The primary cause of dialogue fatigue is under-imagined scenes. This is what causes walls of dialogue, just two or more disembodied talking heads. The author is too focused on conveying information or back-story through dialogue, and failing to fully imagine a scene with living people that see things, hear things, feel things, and think of new things in response to what they are hearing. Instead of people interacting in conversation, they write dueling speeches, or one character repeatedly saying (effectively) "Go on." ... "And then?" ... "Mm Hm," ... and so on, so the first can deliver their speech.

That is unrealistic and boring. Authors should write longer drawn out scenes that are fully imagined, where people argue, and disagree, and get confused and take points the wrong way. Authors should provide the context and prose of the physicality of the scene, who is where, how they move around, what they are physically doing with objects in the scene, what they feel or think they do not reveal to their conversational partner, how they might be deceiving the other.

(5) Find some best-sellers in the used book store. You don't have to read the whole thing, just flip through and find dialogue. See how the best-selling authors in the world actually do it.

  • Thank you! Self consciousness about my writing does occasionally become a problem, and this seems to be one of those times. I just figured I was getting far too repetitive. – MetalBeardman Jan 27 at 17:29
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I tend to agree with not abusing the thesaurus on this one. I don't write a lot of dialogue, but I read a lot. As a reader, I pay attention to the dialogue itself and tend to view "said" as a punctuation mark. I would find it choppy if each piece of dialogue had a different attribution. Using "said" repeatedly (most of the time) allows the reader to focus on which person is saying what to whom. This is discussed pretty extensively in an article I've posted below. There is a lot of other good information in the article too, which discusses using action or "beat of action" during dialogue instead of changing attributions. In fact, based on the examples, you wouldn't even need attributions in those cases.

Edited to add: Just to further the point, each time you use a word outside the "norm" of dialogue, it forces the reader to think about/consider it, so you can see how that might potentially cause some choppiness. Unless this is how you "want" the reader to experience the dialogue, then I personally would not recommend it.

I'm curious to see what others think about this or if they have different perspectives on the matter.

Here is the article:

https://www.writersdigest.com/editor-blogs/there-are-no-rules/keep-it-simple-keys-to-realistic-dialogue-part-ii

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