Since I took up writing as a hobby, I've learnt that it's recommended to only use "say" and "ask" as dialogue tags, and to skip even these if the attribution can be supplied in another way. I realize that the abundancy of synonyms I used in previous texts is way over the top, and I'm working hard on toning it down. However, sometimes, "say" just doesn't express the tone of what's being said. So I'm wondering if it might be permissible to use alternatives in very specific cases.

With the examples that are usually given in these writing guidelines, it's always very obvious why the dialogue tag doesn't work. Of course you can't gasp or spit a run-on sentence or hiss a sentence that doesn't contain any sibilants. But what if those "obvious" reasons don't apply?

"No!" I gasped.

"Right," she spat.

"I love you!" he blurted out.

"It is what it is," he hissed, shrugging.

Of course, there are other ways of describing these, but are these better?

"No!" I said with a gasp.

"Right," she said, almost spitting the word.

"I love you!" Oops, he hadn't meant to say that.

Is that really more "invisible" than simply using the verb instead? (That's hard for me to judge because the old way is so ingrained in my writing habits. Maybe in a year, I'll look back at this question and laugh.)

I agree that the hissing can be described in more detail:

"It is what it is," he said with a shrug, hissing each sibillant in a way reminiscent of the viper he was.

But while that might work once, if this is a common habit of the character, it seems like always having to include the description would get old pretty quickly.

My question is not how to get rid of the dialogue tags. If the tag doesn't add anything, I prefer not having one at all. I've been using these tags because they describe how the characters are speaking, in addition to any action that takes place in-between.

How can I convey the information currently contained in the dialogue tags in a different way?

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    I think when people usually say these things, they mean don't tell us about the gasping, spitting, blurting etc. at all. I don't think 'I said with a gasp' is much different from 'I gasped', no. Commented Nov 30, 2020 at 0:37

2 Answers 2


There are plenty of options out there. Here are just a few--


Like you showed above, you can do things such as: '"Whatever. It is what it is." He shrugged, obviously not believing what he said.'

If you write what the character is doing every so often, it makes your novel/story/blog/whatever more interesting to read.

No tag

There's also the option of not putting anything at the end of dialog at all! As long as the reader can clearly tell who is talking (i.e. if two people are in a scene, one talks with a tag and the other does without one).

These are the two that I usually refer to if I'm not using descriptive "said" words.

Hope this helped!


Change the tags around if you can, and whenever possible just drop them. After a while, 'he said X and she said Y' scenes get rather boring. If there's just 2 people, you can do a dialogue tag in the beginning to set up who is talking, and then you don't need tags until another person enters the conversation.

One other thing you can use to avoid tags is their personality. If you have a no-nonsense person and comic relief in the same conversation with your MC, you can probably avoid dialogue tags as the comic relief will be making jokes while the other counters with logic and 'I don't get it'. If the readers know the characters enough, then they will understand who said what and you can lose the dialogue tags.

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