Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Dialogue Tags
He Said – She Said

Mostly, in dialogue, I like the words ‘he said’ or ‘she said.’  I like to use them and I like to read them.  ‘Said’ seems to safely repeat on the page-- it’s stealthy and slips by relatively unnoticed. 

But, on those occasions when the tone or meaning cannot be discerned from the dialogue content, and a clarifier is needed or interesting, it’s nice to have some ‘said replacements’ handy— they can reveal character and break up a cluster of said’s on the page.

I keep a running A-Z list of ‘Said Replacements' for dialogue.

To date, it’s 25+ pages and makes for a ridiculously long blog post so I’ve put it onto its own page (check right blog margin for ‘Said Replacements’ page.)  While long for a blogsite, it’s a relatively short list, given that much of the dictionary is essentially available.  There are some quirky options on my list, but they sing to me so I’m including them.  

My favorite dialogue speaks for itself and doesn’t need much extra qualifying.  And, unlike ‘said,’ these other replacement words do NOT disappear on the page.  They can be superfluous and overuse of them, as a device, becomes annoying fast.

Though I include the actual ‘Said Replacements’ sparingly, I find I peruse this list periodically.  Even when I don’t actually use a replacement word, scanning the list reminds me to mine for a fuller range of behavioral, emotional, and conversational options in the delivery of a line and the crafting of a scene.

The list is formatted like this:


back pedaled

Sometimes they replace the word said—
         “You’ll always have employment here,” she apologized.

Other times they appear in the sentence to follow—
         “How very smart of you.”  Her jibe took him by surprise.

Dialogue tags do help keep speakers identifiable.  I really hate struggling through an exchange of dialogue where I can’t tell by the content who is speaking, and I have to go back and count quote marks to guess.

I think if speakers are truly unique and distinguishable, the he said/she said can be minimized, as each can be identified by their exclusive individual voices.  I aspire to that as a writer.

Sometimes, even better than ‘said,’ I like an action in alignment with the dialogue—
“Never again.”  He removed his ring. 

Or perhaps, more interesting, an action contrary to the dialogue—
         “Marriage, such bliss.”  She stabbed her knitting needle into his neck.

Kristen Lamb recommends a great reference on her blog warriorwriters.worpress.com - helpful for using action/behavior in place of ‘said.’  It’s called The Emotion Thesaurus, a Writer’s Guide to Character Expression by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi.  It lists 75 emotions, then provides a nice list of corresponding postures, gestures, behaviors etc. for each one.

Please share any other ‘Said Replacements’ that come to mind.
I’m always updating my list and I have fun collecting them.

1 comment:

  1. Good post, Sherry, and wow did I have fun perusing your Said Replacements list! And I agree wholeheartedly - if you have to tell the reader how something is being said, your dialogue is inadequate. I, too, try to employ "bits" of action to attribute dialogue to a character. I can't count how many times I've had to go back and figure out who is speaking in a run of dialogue. So annoying. Ruins the continuity of the story, and my enjoyment thereof.

    Actors have it much easier, because the audience can hear the tone of voice they use. As writers we must structure our dialogue so that tone of voice is inherent in the words. Not an easy task, especially when the nuances are subtle. Thanks for the reminder that sometimes, when used judiciously, 'said' just won't cut it. And for the great laugh on reading your listing of replacements!