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Instructions on how to use

verbs instead of SAID


There is nothing wrong with using the word said in written dialogue. Be careful not to treat the word said as a word to be avoided. Well written dialogue should never rely on tags such as the ones below, but should convey its own attitude. Only a verb can replace "said." Adjectives, adverbs, and nouns should used with said, rather than instead of said, because they are descriptive words. When using words instead of said, be sure you utilize them properly. For example, you cannot laugh and talk, or sneeze and talk at the same time. “That is so funny, laughed Bob,” should not be used. A person can laugh before or after they speak, but not while they speak. Think about how your character is going to speak and the emotion that they are experiencing. Think it out before you write it down. Let me give you some examples. The following sentence does not use the word said:

“I hate you,” spat Gina in disgust. Now think about that sentence. Can a person spit in disgust and speak at the same time?
Watch what happens this time when I use the word spat to describe Gina's actions:
Gina clenched her fists in rage at seeing her boyfriend kissing another girl. “I hate you!” The words spat out her mouth as she stormed out the classroom, vowing never to talk to him again.

Here is another example: the word “quietly” cannot be used instead of said, but it can enhance your dialogue.
Ms. Maple covered her lips with her index finger until she had the attention of the entire class. “Let's use our inside voices,” she said quietly.

Here is an example where the word said works just fine:
“Do have some more gravy, Bob,” said Darla, spooning it out herself.

Dialog tags, and how to use them.

There are some common errors that are easy to make involving the use of dialogue tags. What is a dialogue tag? Also often referred to as an attribution, a dialogue tag is a small phrase either before, after, or in between the actual dialogue itself. For example:
“Did you see the movie?” asked Robert.
The phrase “asked Robert” is the dialogue tag in the sentence.

You must be careful not to let the dialogue tag get pulled off into becoming its own sentence. Let me give you an example of what not to do:

"I don't have it." He said. / "I don't have it," He said.

The pronoun he should not be capitalized. Capitalized pronouns go at the start of their own sentences, or refer to deities. Do not capitalize a pronoun when it is being used as a dialogue tag.

Dialogue tags can be used in three different places: before, after, or in the middle of dialogue. Depending on where the dialogue tags are being used, you will need to use different punctuation and capitalization.

Tag before the dialogue

When you use dialogue tags before the dialogue it should look like this:
Kari pleaded, “You are going to ask me to the dance, aren't you?”
This is how it works:

  • Use a comma after the dialogue tag.
  • If the dialogue is the beginning of a sentence, capitalize the first letter.
  • End the dialogue with the appropriate punctuation (period, exclamation point, or question mark), but keep it inside the quotation marks.

Tag after the dialogue

When you use dialogue tags after the dialogue it should look like this:

“You are going to ask me to the dance, aren't you?” Kari pleaded. or “You are going to ask me to the dance, aren't you?” pleaded Kari.

This is how it works:

  • Punctuation still goes inside quotation marks.
  • Unless the dialogue tag begins with a proper noun, it is not capitalized.
  • End the dialogue tag with appropriate punctuation.

Tag in the middle of the Dialogue

When you use dialogue tags in the middle of dialogue it should look like this:
“The pressure in your front passanger side tire,” he explained, “is too low for you to safely drive the car.”
This is how it works:

  • A comma is used before the dialogue tag and goes inside quotation marks.
  • Unless the dialogue tag begins with a proper noun, it is not capitalized.
  • A comma is used after the dialogue tag, outside of quotation marks, to reintroduce the dialogue.
  • End the dialogue with the appropriate punctuation (period, exclamation point, or question mark), but keep it inside the quotation marks.

Some more examples:

correct He shook his and emphasized, “I don't have it.”
incorrect He shook his and emphasized. “I don't have it.” (Why is it incorrect? It is two sentences instead of one.)

correct “I don't have it,” he emphasized as he shook his head.
incorrect “I don't have it,” He emphasized as he shook his head. (Why is it incorrect? The pronoun he is capitalized.)

correct “The pressure in your front passanger side tire,” he explained, “is too low for you to safely drive the car.”
incorrect “The pressure in your front passanger side tire.” He explained. “Is too low for you to safely drive the car.” (Why is it incorrect? It has become three fragmented, or broken sentences.)

Some final suggestions about dialogue


For dialogue to be effective it must appear to be realistic. The person reading your story must believe that your characters actually talk this way. You should use dialogue to reveal insights into characters, set the mood, and even to clarify plot points. I was once told that when writing dialogue, to think of it as action. Use dialogue tags to make something happen and to keep the plot.

The best way to improve your written dialogue is by studying people. Watch how people talk. Pay close attention to facial expressions while people are talking. Watch what they do with their hands while they are talking. Watch their body language. A person who is angry will have completely different facial expressions and body movements than someone who is happy. There is a lot of non-verbal communicating that happens while a person is talking. Including the non-verbal with the verbal will make your dialogue more interesting and believable.


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