Sunday, March 13, 2011

He said—she said in dialogue. How do you mix up these voice tags?

There is an interesting post on Linkedin about the overuse of the he said, she said dialogue tags. How do authors break up this repetitiveness? First let’s assume that the human mind works faster than the eye and that the brain glosses over the, he/she said dialogue tags. Think of it like breathing. The process continues every second of the day and we do not conscientiously think of it. The same can be said of these pesky tags. What our eyes gloss over the brain processes and we move on. Sometimes there is a need for another way to show who is talking.

I use actions in some of my sentences to indicate who is speaking. The examples below show who the speaker is without the, he/she dialogue tags:

“Crazy how that suddenly happened, I mean out of the blue,” Cheryl removed her hand from her brother’s mouth.
“I am sorry to wake you, “David stuttered, “the aircraft has a heating problem, and it is freezing inside.”
“My body is physically here but my mind is still in bed,” David told them.
“I have uncovered a half of a slate palette,” Tom’s excited voice called out.
“My deceased husband found it somewhere outside of town.” Jen’s gaze followed Useret’s hand as she pointed it toward the direction of their camp.

I have a list of alternate dialogue tags often used to add action to your manuscript. It is included below—enjoy.

• Accepted, Acknowledged, Admitted, Advertised, Affirm, Agonized, Agreed, Alleged, Announced, Answered, Appealed, Apply for, Arranged, Articulated, Asked, Asserted, Asseverate, Assumed, Assured, Attract, Aver, Avow,

• Barked, Bawl, Bawled, Beamed, Beckoned, Begged, Bellowed, Beseeched, Blubbered, Blurted, Bossed, Breathed, Broadcast,

• Cajole, Called, Carped, Cautioned, Censured, Chimed in, Chortled, Chuckled, Circulate, Claim, Comforted, Conceded, Concurred, Condemned, Confer, Confessed, Confided, Confirm, Consoled, Contend, Continued, Crave, Cried out, Criticized, Crooned, Crowed,

• Declared, Defend, Demanded, Denote, Dictated, Disclosed, Disposed, Disseminate, Distribute, Divulged, Drawled,

• Emitted, Empathized, Encourage, Encouraged, Entreated, Exact, Exclaimed, Explained, Exposed,

• Faltered, Finished, Fumed,

• Gawped, Get out, Giggled, Given, Glowered, Grieved, Grinned, Groan, Groaned, Growled, Grumbled,

• Handed on, Held, Hesitated, Hinted, Hollered, Howled,

• Impart, Implied, Implored, Importune, Inclined, Indicate, Informed, Inquired, Insisted, Interjected, Invited,

• Jabbered, Joked, Justified,

• Keened,

• Lamented, Laughed, Leered, Lilted,

• Maintained, Make known, Make public, Marked, Mewled, Mimicked, Moaned, Mocked, Mourned, Murmured,

• Necessitated, Needed, Noted,

• Observed, Offered, Ordered,

• Passed on, Pleaded, Postulated, Preached, Premised, Presented, Presupposed, Proclaimed, Prodded, Professed, Proffered, Promised, Promulgated, Proposed, Protested, Provoked, Publicized, Published, Pulled, Put forth, Put out,

• Quaked, Queried, Quipped, Quivered, Quizzed,

• Raged, Ranted, Reckoned that, Rejoiced, Rejoined, Released, Remarked, Remonstrated, Repeated, Replied, Reprimanded, Requested, Required, Requisition, Revealed, Roared,

• Said, Scoffed, Scolded, Seethed, Sent on, Settled, Shared, Shed tears, Shouted, Shrieked, Shrugged, Shuddered, Sniveled, Sobbed, Solicited, Sought, Specified, Spread, Stated, Stressed, Suggested, Supposed, Swore,

• Taunted, Teased, Testified, Thundered, Ticked off, Told, Told off, Tore a strip off, Touted, Transferred, Transmitted, Trembled, Trumpeted,

• Understood, Undertook, Upbraided, Uttered,

• Verified, Vociferated, Voiced, Vouched for, Vouchsafe,

• Wailed, Wanted, Weep, Wept, Wheedle, Whimpered, Whined, Whispered,

• Yawped, Yelled, Yelped,

Word of caution. Be sensible, sprinkle in alternatives to said sporadically, and your work might glitter – use them everywhere, and your work will tarnish.


  1. An interesting feature, David, and most of what you have to say here I agree with. Certainly, it is better to write dialogue in such a way that it's either associated with the character by some action or other mention, perhaps by the speaker referring to the other character by name occasionally to avoid confusion when there is a long passage of dialogue. It has long been the established view that tags should be used sparely, that 'he said, she said' is almost always preferable to any other form and that the use of 'descriptive' tags should be very very sparing. It's much better if the emotion can be portrayed by the words said than by hitting the reader over the head with an emotional tag.

  2. Hello Stuart,

    Thank you for following my blog. I agree with you also. Overuse of emotional or action tags can slow down a read of your story. However, several times I find that the proper use of other words, than "he said/she said" draws the reader closer to the speaker. I am not a Clive Cussler, who uses descriptive narrative instead of the usual "he/she said" tags.