Today’s Writing Tip

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I’m always amazed when I encounter an indie published book where the author doesn’t know how to punctuate dialog. Seriously? I remember learning that back in elementary school. However, I’m old as dirt, so maybe that was another one of those things eliminated from school curricula. However, if you’re going to represent yourself as an author, then it’s your job to learn such things.

I have seen some really weird, albeit creative ways to convey characters conversing. However, as far as enhancing the story, forget it. It’s another one of those dreaded distractions that throws a savvy reader out of the story.

Here are the basics:

If it’s a simple statement, you use a comma, NOT a period. “I’m going to the store,” he said.

If it’s a question, then use a question mark. How obvious can it be? For example, “Do you need anything at the store?” The trick here is if it’s part of the narrative, then sometimes it’s ambiguous.  I get that and have run into it myself a few times, especially when a character is wondering about something. Wondering, by it’s very nature, is a question. However, sometimes it’s not that obvious. In dialog, however, it should be pretty clear that something like “I wonder if he’s going to the store this afternoon?” is a question.

If someone is excited, angry, or speaking/thinking in an agitated state, then use an explanation point! “What do you mean you’re not going to the store? You said you were and I need some butter!”

It’s really not that hard, is it? Yet I’ve seen it done incorrectly numerous times. C’mon, indie authors! You can do better!

Today’s Writing Tip

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In long conversations, remind the reader who’s speaking from time to time. It annoys readers when they have to go back and figure it out. This is even more frustrating when you’re reading an ebook since flipping back is not as easy as with a print book. This is another thing that throws a reader out of the story, which IMHO is the #1 faux pas.

This is not to say that you should say “he said” or “she said” with every line of dialog. When there is a clear flow to the conversation such that it’s obvious who is saying what, then there’s little need for it. However, I’ve seen a page or two of dialog that wasn’t  attributed and left me entirely lost.

Using a variety of synonyms for “said” such as stated, commented, noted, and so forth, or answered or replied, helps break the monotony. Another trick is to occasionally insert the person’s name into the dialog itself. If you say “Listen, John, I told you that before” it’s clear that John isn’t the speaker. You can also break it up with some action, such as saying “John rolled his eyes”, again indicating who’s doing what.

Today’s Writing Tip


There are dozens of ways to say “said!” Here are 154 of them!

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away–in other words, back in 1977–my mom gave me a copy of the Readers Digest “Family Word Finder.” As you’ve probably figured out from its title, it’s a thesaurus and its age certainly a witness to how long I’ve been writing. I recently had that book out and discovered a typewritten (yes, typed, like in manual typewriter) list. It contained alternatives (but not quite synonyms) for using “said” in dialog. (BTW, I wrote my first novel on a manual typewriter.)

I remember having a lot of fun creating this list. However, there’s a caveat, especially if you’re addicted to words like myself. Granted, using these appropriately can contribute to imagery, emotion, and clarity. However, using them too frequently can be as grating as having “he said” or “she said” on every line.

In other words, like adding herbs and spices to a soup kettle, use them sparingly, as spicesflavor enhancers, if you will. Be subtle, not glaring, which makes them all the more powerful. Used improperly or excessively, you could wind up with the literary equivalent of adding cinnamon instead of cumin to your chili. Properly administered, they’ll help create dynamic and convincing dialog, a critical component of outstanding fiction.

Without further ado, here we go. Feel free to add any I missed in the comments!

  1. accused
  2. acknowledged
  3. added
  4. admitted
  5. advised
  6. affirmed
  7. agreed
  8. announced
  9. answered
  10. apologized
  11. argued
  12. asked
  13. asserted
  14. assured
  15. avowed
  16. babbled
  17. barked
  18. bellowed
  19. begged
  20. blubbered
  21. blurted out
  22. bragged
  23. breathed
  24. burst out
  25. cackled
  26. called
  27. cautioned
  28. challenged
  29. chattered
  30. chirped
  31. choked
  32. claimed
  33. chortled
  34. clipped
  35. coerced
  36. complained
  37. conceded
  38. concluded
  39. confessed
  40. confided
  41. consoled
  42. continued
  43. cooed
  44. corrected
  45. cried
  46. croaked
  47. decided
  48. declared
  49. demanded
  50. denied
  51. disclosed
  52. divulged
  53. drawled
  54. echoed
  55. emphasized
  56. estimated
  57. explained
  58. exploded
  59. figured
  60. gasped
  61. greeted
  62. groaned
  63. groused
  64. growled
  65. grumbled
  66. grunted
  67. guessed
  68. gulped
  69. hissed
  70. hinted
  71. hollered
  72. implied
  73. inquired
  74. intimated
  75. insisted
  76. instructed
  77. interjected
  78. interrupted
  79. iterated
  80. joked
  81. laughed
  82. lied
  83. maintained
  84. mentioned
  85. mimicked
  86. moaned
  87. mumbled
  88. murmured
  89. mused
  90. muttered
  91. offered
  92. ordered
  93. panted
  94. parroted
  95. pleaded
  96. pointed out
  97. pouted
  98. prayed
  99. probed
  100. proclaimed
  101. prodded
  102. promised
  103. proposed
  104. protested
  105. purred
  106. quipped
  107. rambled
  108. ranted
  109. recounted
  110. reiterated
  111. related
  112. relented
  113. retorted
  114. reminded
  115. repeated
  116. replied
  117. reported
  118. resolved
  119. returned
  120. revealed
  121. scoffed
  122. scowled
  123. screeched
  124. shouted
  125. shrugged
  126. sighed
  127. smirked
  128. snapped
  129. sneered
  130. sniffed
  131. snittered
  132. snorted
  133. sobbed
  134. speculated
  135. sputtered
  136. squeaked
  137. stammered
  138. stated
  139. stipulated
  140. suggested
  141. teased
  142. theorized
  143. threatened
  144. uttered
  145. vocalized
  146. volunteered
  147. vowed
  148. wailed
  149. warned
  150. whimpered
  151. whispered
  152. wished
  153. wondered
  154. yelled

Today’s Writing Tip

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Next on the list after typos for reasons why a story didn’t receive a 5-star review was too many “he said/she saids”. It’s obviously not necessarily to include who said what with every piece of dialog. Again, balance is the key. When it’s a clear “dialog” with one person speaking, then the other, you can go on for a while, as long as it’s reasonably apparent who’s speaking. Nonetheless, an occasional reminder is good, too. If a conversation goes on for a couple of pages, it never hurts to insert either a “s/he said” or perhaps some action, such as a facial expression or gesture, to indicate who’s speaking.

When readers have to go back and figure out who’s speaking, it interrupts the story flow and throws them out of the story, which is something a diligent author should avoid at all costs.

Today’s Writing Tip

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When someone asks a question, be sure to punctuate with a “?” However, this can vary with narration. “He wondered whether the police had all the evidence” is a statement but “Did the police have all the evidence?” is a question.

Today’s Writing Tip

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There are several ways to say “said”, such as replied; asserted; stated; opined; declared, etc., but don’t overdo it; too much variety gets annoying as well. When expression is required, use substitutes to avoid adverbs, such as “he yelled” vs. “he said loudly.” The feeling behind it can also be described by how the character looks, his or her expression, or body language. Only a small portion of communicating is done via words.

Today’s Writing Tip

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Keep dialog realistic. Remember to use contractions or it could sound stilted.  Saying it aloud helps. If one or more characters have an accent, be sure to reflect that as well, even if your spell-checker gags a bit. You want your readers to be able to virtually hear conversations. You should create an impression of what their voices sound like as clearly as you do their appearance.

Writing Tip of the Day

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In long conversations, remind the reader who’s speaking from time to time. It’s annoying when you have to go back and figure it out. You can do this in a more creative manner than “he said” or “she said.” For example, have one of them make a face, pace the floor, roll their eyes, or scoff.