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Thread: Replace dialogue tags (said, answered, replied, asked) with...?

  1. #1
    Ever onward Horserider's Avatar
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    Replace dialogue tags (said, answered, replied, asked) with...?

    What are some suggestions of words that I can use in place of words like said, answered, replied or asked? I tend to use those four a lot and I need some different ideas.
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  2. #2
    Hi. SuperModerator alleycat's Avatar
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    There was a recent thread on this very topic.

    For the most part, you DON'T want to be creative with tags. DO use said, replied, and asked; or no tag at all if it's clear who's speaking.
    Last edited by alleycat; 01-01-2009 at 04:38 AM.



  3. #3
    Dancing on the edge Brindle Chase's Avatar
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    it really depends on the character in question and the emotion that might be attached to what they are saying. Did the char whisper the reply? Did they growl, bark, snap, retorted, snip, yell, screamed, screeched, snarled, spat....?

    There are alot of words that can turn a simple "he said" into "he snarled venomously"... the added description shouldnt be overdone, but it can convey greater depth of the character and the emotion tied to the dialogue... ?????

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    Quote Originally Posted by Horserider View Post
    What are some suggestions of words that I can use in place of words like said, answered, replied or asked? I tend to use those four a lot and I need some different ideas.
    Don't.

    Just don't.

    Quote Originally Posted by Brindle Chase View Post
    ...it can convey greater depth of the character and the emotion tied to the dialogue... ?????
    No. Really. The dialogue should do that.

    If it doesn't convey the emotion, there's something wrong with the dialogue.

  5. #5
    Dancing on the edge Brindle Chase's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by scarletpeaches View Post
    Don't.
    No. Really. The dialogue should do that.

    If it doesn't convey the emotion, there's something wrong with the dialogue.

    Well its often a matter of personal preference and even knowing your market, audience, genre, etc... Dont as a rule to all writing though would be remiss as we'd disqualify a great many writers far greater than you or I with such absolutes.

    Try reading a taped transcript, where the only to read is exactly what is said, then listen to the conversation that was taped. He said, she said often will miss and destroy much of very real dialogue. What's said is said, but if the words themselves do not convey the emotion, then description helps.

    There is a world of difference between

    "Don't." She said.

    and

    "Don't!" She screamed in horrified amazement at the offered advice...

    "Don't." She hissed in angered warning...

    "Don't." She teased playfully...

    So much can be missed with generic tags.... IMHO...

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    Dialogue is never discrete. It's always taken in context and even this would go a long way to showing the reader how something is said.

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    There's not really an argument here. Listen to Peaches, she knows the drill.

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    It's green they say FennelGiraffe's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Brindle Chase View Post
    "Don't." She hissed in angered warning...
    Please explain how you can hiss a word that contains no sibilants.

    By the way, that's not how a dialog tag is punctuated. It should be
    "Don't," she hissed in angered warning...
    In a science fiction novel, if I describe what's on a desk, the reader will use this to figure out the level of technology in the society.

    In a mystery novel, if I describe what's on a desk, the reader will understand that one of those objects is a clue.

    In a literary novel, if I describe what's on a desk, the reader will understand it to be a metaphor for the protagonist's mental state.
    - James D. Macdonald, discussing Reading Protocols, 6 Apr 2009

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    Horserider, I suggest you follow allyecat's and scarlet's advice here.

    Brindle, I understand the temptation (being a lover of adverbs) but your examples were overwritten and overwrought. (If you'd put a period after "screamed," "hissed" and "teased" - I would have stayed out of this.)
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    Real Men Have Gills OpheliaRevived's Avatar
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    I learned the hard way that adverbs very rarely spice up flawed dialogue. I like omitting "said", etc. as much as I can. (It's easy to do if you're writing a two character exchange.)
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  11. #11
    Rewriting My Destiny Cyia's Avatar
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    Bleh... If the action's done right, you don't need tags.

    Quote Originally Posted by Brindle Chase View Post

    "Don't." She said.

    and

    "You know you could always just pay the guy off."

    "Don't!" She screamed in horrified amazement at the offered advice...

    (the exclaimation mark is enough to convey the feeling in response)

    The boys climbed onto the couch's arm, balanced for an impending leap.

    "Don't." She hissed in angered warning...

    (If "she" has been established as mom or caregiver, the reader will get the intent of it being a warning.)

    He eyed that spot behind her knee - the only one she'd admit was ticklish - and dove.


    "Don't." She teased playfully... She doubled over, guarding her legs from the playful assualt.
    (Not only is "teased playfully" redundant, it's unnecessary. Add action if you need to clarify something.)

    So much can be missed with generic tags.... IMHO... Yes, and so much can be ruined by adding ones you don't need.
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    Quiet Normally, Loud when Provoked adtabb's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Cyia View Post
    Bleh... If the action's done right, you don't need tags.
    Not necessarily the case. Sure, your examples protray an action, however, they do not designate any emotion, or idea what the charachter is feeling or thinking. You leave it entirely up to the reader to guess what the character is feeling. While the reader may want to make up some things, sometimes, direction is essential to understanding the plot. Action is not emotion.

    Quote Originally Posted by Cyia View Post
    Quote:Originally Posted by Brindle Chase

    "Don't." She said.

    and

    "You know you could always just pay the guy off."

    "Don't!" She screamed in horrified amazement at the offered advice...

    (the exclaimation mark is enough to convey the feeling in response)

    The boys climbed onto the couch's arm, balanced for an impending leap.

    This gives the action of the boys, nothing about the speaker. The exclamation point does express some emotion - however, which emotion? Fear? Shock? Amazement? Horror? Even hidden pride? We have no idea.

    "Don't." She hissed in angered warning...

    (If "she" has been established as mom or caregiver, the reader will get the intent of it being a warning.)

    He eyed that spot behind her knee - the only one she'd admit was ticklish - and dove.


    "Don't." She teased playfully... She doubled over, guarding her legs from the playful assualt.
    (Not only is "teased playfully" redundant, it's unnecessary. Add action if you need to clarify something.)
    This example maybe okay in a romance., but it will lose it's meaning elsewhere. Again, perhaps in a larger context it may work. However, here it does not you still do not know how the speaker feels regarding the playful touch. Is she a willing participant? Sometimes, just not now? Never with this person? There is too much guess work for the reader.

    If the reader has to guess at the characters emotions too much, then the characters look like card board cut-outs, and the reader puts the book down. it all depends on what you are trying to get across, and if the characters emotions are important here. If the reader has to stop and wonder why the character has no emotions whatsoever, very few will be inclined to read.



    So much can be missed with generic tags.... IMHO... Yes, and so much can be ruined by adding ones you don't need.
    Some people are so afraid of, or ashamed of, adjectives and adverbs to such a degree that they will use five, or a dozen words to replace one word, and yet say nothing, while that one word made everything crystal clear.
    Last edited by adtabb; 01-01-2009 at 04:59 PM.

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    Quote Originally Posted by adtabb View Post
    Not necessarily the case. Sure, your examples protray an action, however, they do not designate any emotion, or idea what the charachter is feeling or thinking. You leave it entirely up to the reader to guess what the character is feeling. While the reader may want to make up some things, sometimes, direction is essential to understanding the plot. Action is not emotion.
    Action displays emotion. It shows rather than tells what the character is feeling.

    You don't have to guess what the character is feeling if the writer does their job correctly. Do you want to be spoon-fed everything, told "She was angry?" Or do you want to be shown, from the way she stomps into the room, slams the door and glares at someone?

    Direction is not essential for understanding the plot if the action and dialogue are written correctly.

    If everything was explained directly I wouldn't feel enlightened; I'd feel patronised.

    Quote Originally Posted by adtabb View Post
    Some people are so afraid of, or ashamed of, adjectives and adverbs to such a degree that they will use five, or a dozen words to replace one word, and yet say nothing, while that one word made everything crystal clear.
    Kinda like overuse of dialogue tags, no?

  14. #14
    Quiet Normally, Loud when Provoked adtabb's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by scarletpeaches View Post
    Do you want to be spoon-fed everything, told "She was angry?" Or do you want to be shown, from the way she stomps into the room, slams the door and glares at someone?
    Stating a simple fact - an emotion is not being "spoonfed." It is important to say what you mean, and mean what you say. It is often easier to simply state something and then move the story onward, rather than spending a lot of time on hiding that one important aspect within a lot of words so that the reader may, or may not get the meaning.

    Of course, some people love pretty prose and guessing games.

    As for me, and most readers I know, if something is important, make it clear, don't disguise it.

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    They've been very bad, Mr Flibble Mr Flibble's Avatar
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    What SP said.

    The occasional adverb with said would be ok, imo, if it's really warranted. The trouble is that often they are used when they aren't warranted and / or could have been shown better showhow else.

    As for alternatives to said...

    Not too often.

    No really

    Once or twice a chapter might be ok


    If you really HAVE to

    Not once or twice a paragraph

    Unless you like rejection slips

    It is important to say what you mean, and mean what you say.
    Stating simple fact is telling - dry and uncompelling. Showing it is much more fun

    As for me, and most readers I know, if something is important, make it clear, don't disguise it.
    If someone writes 'She slammed the door and glared at me' it is just as clear she is angry as someone saying 'She was angry'. And not so boring
    Last edited by Mr Flibble; 01-01-2009 at 06:06 PM.




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    Quote Originally Posted by adtabb View Post
    Stating a simple fact - an emotion is not being "spoonfed."
    Yes it is. It's telling rather than showing.

    Quote Originally Posted by adtabb View Post
    It is important to say what you mean, and mean what you say. It is often easier to simply state something and then move the story onward, rather than spending a lot of time on hiding that one important aspect within a lot of words so that the reader may, or may not get the meaning.
    Firstly, writing is not supposed to be easy. Reading is.

    Secondly, if you think showing rather than telling is a matter of 'hiding' an important aspect amongst lots of other words, then dare I say it, the issue is with your reading comprehension rather than the author's not being clear enough.

    Quote Originally Posted by adtabb View Post
    Of course, some people love pretty prose and guessing games.
    What you call 'guessing games' I call 'not being talked down to by the author'. I don't need to be told what the character is thinking. I want to be shown.

    Quote Originally Posted by adtabb View Post
    As for me, and most readers I know, if something is important, make it clear, don't disguise it.
    Most readers you know? How many's that, then?

    Now you and your friends might like certain aspects of novels to be 'made clear' but I fail to see how big words and pretty prose obscure meaning, because...well, I know what big words and pretty prose mean. I'm not stupid. I don't need or want things to be spelled out for me.

    I write novels, not term papers.

  17. #17
    The grad students did it NeuroFizz's Avatar
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    Adtabb and others...several people here (some experienced writers) have cautioned about use of adverbs and the problems with telling instead of showing. There is also the danger of violating a strict POV if you use those adverbs for dialogue of characters other than the POV character. If you don't want to accept all of this experience-based advice, fine. Push ahead. But don't be surprised if your writing is viewed as amateurish because frequent adverb use is a sign of just that in today's market (in the vast majority of genres). The "some published authors do it" rationale isn't going to cut it with a beginning author in the eyes of agents and editors.

    Emotion and intent (motivation) should be shown to the writer in the majority of cases, and that involves crafting the scene so the actions/reactions and dialogue of the characters provide intent and emotion. That's good writing.

    Write as you wish, but there is solid reason behind the comments here. Strive for excellence in the craft. Sometimes this involves economy of words. But some types of word economy are just not considered quality writing.
    Last edited by NeuroFizz; 01-01-2009 at 08:43 PM.
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    Quiet Normally, Loud when Provoked adtabb's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by NeuroFizz View Post
    Adtabb and others...several people here (some experienced writers) have cautioned about use of adverbs and the problems with telling instead of showing. beginning author in the eyes of agents and editors.

    Emotion and intent (motivation) should be shown to the writer in the majority of cases, and that involves crafting the scene so the actions/reactions and dialogue of the characters provide intent and emotion. That's good writing.
    I am not advocating using adverbs and adjectives for everything, but they do exist for a reason.

    The fact is, physical actions do not tell the whole story either. In the US alone, half the country would react one way to a character who stares, and the other half would react another.

    Just because a physical action means one thing to you, does not mean it means the same thing to the reader, or the character. Calirification is sometimes needed. Not in every instance, but sometimes, yes. Remember, not just you, or those identical to you will read your writing.

    People older than you, people younger than you, people who are healthy, peope who have memory problems will attempt to read your writing.

    Readers buy what is available. If all they have is pure action stories with little connection to the character available, that is all they will buy. In large part, the way you write should be determined by the audience reading.

    You wouldn't go up to your great granmother and start talking about HTML codes without any reference would you? Sometimes that is what happens when there is nothing but action in novels. it just flies along so fast, the reader never feels conneted to the character.

    Are you writing for people who want action? Are you writing refelcetion?

    Are you remembering to use the five senses in your writing? Or just writing sight only?

    There is a time and a place for every part of the language in writing. None should be overused, none can be ignored at all times. Some aspects are approprite for most writing, some only for a very few places.

    The attitude I see here so many times is someone saying that something should never ever be used. If you think so, petition the colleges, the schools, the government, and the dictionaries to ban those words. "Never" is a strong word. Only use it when you have to. there is a time and a place for everything.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Horserider View Post
    What are some suggestions of words that I can use in place of words like said, answered, replied or asked? I tend to use those four a lot and I need some different ideas.
    One of the best pieces of advice writers are given is to read, read, read. If you read widely you'll see what is considered acceptable by authors, publishers and readers. When you've done that, you'll probably find it interesting to come back and go through the responses in this thread.

    Cheers,
    Rob

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    The grad students did it NeuroFizz's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by adtabb View Post
    I am not advocating using adverbs and adjectives for everything, but they do exist for a reason.

    The fact is, physical actions do not tell the whole story either. In the US alone, half the country would react one way to a character who stares, and the other half would react another.

    Just because a physical action means one thing to you, does not mean it means the same thing to the reader, or the character. Calirification is sometimes needed. Not in every instance, but sometimes, yes. Remember, not just you, or those identical to you will read your writing.

    People older than you, people younger than you, people who are healthy, peope who have memory problems will attempt to read your writing.

    Readers buy what is available. If all they have is pure action stories with little connection to the character available, that is all they will buy. In large part, the way you write should be determined by the audience reading.

    You wouldn't go up to your great granmother and start talking about HTML codes without any reference would you? Sometimes that is what happens when there is nothing but action in novels. it just flies along so fast, the reader never feels conneted to the character.

    Are you writing for people who want action? Are you writing refelcetion?

    Are you remembering to use the five senses in your writing? Or just writing sight only?

    There is a time and a place for every part of the language in writing. None should be overused, none can be ignored at all times. Some aspects are approprite for most writing, some only for a very few places.

    The attitude I see here so many times is someone saying that something should never ever be used. If you think so, petition the colleges, the schools, the government, and the dictionaries to ban those words. "Never" is a strong word. Only use it when you have to. there is a time and a place for everything.
    So, by all means, write to the lowest common denominator. If you don't want to follow the advice given, more power to you. We're telling you what editors and agents have instilled in us through our experiences. You are not bound to it in any way. All kinds of writing styles are published, so write your best story in your way. Do let us know how it goes.

    And please show me where we have said that adverbs should NEVER be used.
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  21. #21
    practical experience, FTW Danger Jane's Avatar
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    In response to Adtabb's most recent post:

    "Nothing but action" is a pretty extreme exaggeration, I think. You can get an awful lot of description in any given story that does a LOT to deepen characterization, themes, etc. With the right details and actions selected, readers can infer a LOT about the story without a single character thought seeping in.

    I also think you're confusing what is essentially an objective viewpoint--for real, nothing but actions, the narrator NEVER enters into any character's head--with a laundry-list story, which is telling, too, and just as unengaging for most people as a novel that explains everything in the most explicit and juvenile terms. A scene can consist of mostly action and dialogue without feeling "action-packed" or even fast-paced, because it's all about the choices of actions. They could be as small as tapping one finger on a coffee mug or as large as steering a car into a train.

    Yes, there are shades of gray that allow for an adverb here, a colorful dialogue tag there. But not everywhere.

    Like others have said, READ READ READ. And when you're reading, read like a WRITER. Pay attention to what your favorite authors write like, and what "classic" authors write like, and what bestselling authors write like. There is a pattern.
    Last edited by Danger Jane; 01-01-2009 at 10:27 PM.

  22. #22
    under the Milky Way Jerry B. Flory's Avatar
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    "Don't!" She screamed in horrified amazement at the offered advice...
    Are you kidding me? No way would I add a tag like that unless it were extremely funny or actually negated what was said.
    "Don't," he said, as if she were a creature of reason.
    Dialogue tags are unnecessary in most situations. The only time I would advocate using them is when there are many characters and some of them speak once, and at the beginning of a conversation. After that, it should be easy enough to follow without tags. If you want to identify something said with a person you can also use a description of the sound of their voice, maybe it's muffled, maybe they're in another room, maybe they're in a bouncy carriage and the words are rattled out of their mouth.

    There's a definite place for the he said, she said, but it's to keep track of a conversation. You really shouldn't have to describe dialog. If someone's angry, miffed, upset, horrified, other elements of the story should bring that out, not a lazy dialogue tag.

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    Asked, replied and questioned are unnecessary. The presence of a question mark makes it obvious that it's a question.

    Unless you need to clarify who is speaking, but even then I would describe an action rather than tag it.

    So instead of:
    The thread was getting very crowded. "Who's going to post next?" scarletpeaches asked.
    I'd have something like:
    The thread was getting very crowded. scarletpeaches sighed at Jerry B. Flory's avatar. "Who's going to post next?"

  24. #24
    practical experience, FTW Danger Jane's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by scarletpeaches View Post
    Asked, replied and questioned are unnecessary. The presence of a question mark makes it obvious that it's a question.

    Unless you need to clarify who is speaking, but even then I would describe an action rather than tag it.

    So instead of:


    I'd have something like:
    I usually include asked simply if it fits the rhythm of the sentence better than either said or an action tag would. Replied, though, I rarely use--maybe twice in 40,000 words, for either the rhythm or the connotations. Said is definitely the best bet, though.

  25. #25
    that's me She_wulf's Avatar
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    I read this line last week:
    "She screamed like a bunny in a blender."
    It is much more effective than...

    "She saw the bat and screamed unnervingly."

    Or

    "She screamed in a high pitched voice that betrayed her utter shock."

    Or

    "She let out a terror-stricken scream."

    Or simply...

    "She screamed."

    Cudos to Christopher Moore for the first line. I've not read better in a while.

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