Young Writer’s Tools: Dialogue Tag Word Bank

I was surfing the Web last week and came upon Stephen King’s Top 20 Rules for Writers.

Rule #3: Avoid Adverbs.

Rules #4: Avoid Adverbs, especially after “he said” and “she said.”

I began paying attention to my own writing and realized that I used quite a few adverbs, particularly after dialogue tags. This isn’t the end of the world. In fact, I came across another article that provided a compelling defense of adverbs. This article claims adverbs are just another part of speech, and that there aren’t any “rules” in writing unless you’re a weak writer.

That may be true.

It’s also true that it’s easy to abuse adverbs – particularly for a young writer – because they provide quick descriptive phrases like “he said angrily” or “she ran quickly.” There’s nothing wrong with either of these phrases, but, unless you’re accomplishing something specific with the adverb, you’re probably better off saying something like “he fumed,” or “she sprinted.”

So, after noticing my own tendency to use adverbs after dialogue tags, I decided to try to cut them out for a while. I ended up spending a lot of time on, and found some great dialogue tags. Therefore, I thought I’d start a little word bank, so that writer who are interested in adding some descriptive words (rather than descriptive phrases) would have an easier time of it than I did.

Alternatives to:

“Said angrily”

Exclaimed, Exploded, Ejaculated, Fumed, Flared, Shouted, Roared, Yelled, Screamed, Shrieked, Snapped, Hollered, Raged, Hissed

“Said quietly”

Murmured, Muttered, Sighed, Whispered, Hummed, Insinuated, Mumbled, Purred, Whimpered, Squeaked

“Said happily,”

Joked, Laughed, Beamed, Glowed, Grinned, Sang, Caroled, Chuckled, Chortled, Whooped

“Said sadly”

Groused, Complained, Whined, Cried, Griped, Grumbled, Groaned, Moaned, Fussed, Kvetched

Clearly, this is not an exhaustive list. It is, however, enough to get you started.

If you have any favorite dialogue tags or adverbs that aren’t on this list, please leave them down in the comment section and I’ll add them to the word bank!


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  1. Hey Ink Slinger! Thanks for linking to my post about adverbs.

    I think you’re on the right course here with looking at the thesaurus for alternate words, but be careful of what’s called “saidism”s where too much emphasis is put on alternatives to “said” so that those verbs overwhelm the dialogue.

    For example:

    “We have to get out of here!” Burt exclaimed.

    “We’re fine,” Collins assured him.

    “You don’t get it,” Burt retorted. “The nuke’s incoming.”

    “We’re fine,” Collins repeated.

    There’s a guideline that “said” is invisible and is just there to help the reader keep straight who’s speaking.

    When writing, I think it’s fine to use adverbs in first drafts as a note to myself to recall what tone I was going for in the flow of the moment. But then revise these out through various drafts. Taking the above, I might write in the first draft:

    “We have to get out of here!” Burt yelled.

    “We’re fine,” Collins said calmly to reassure him everything was OK.

    In the next revision, I might say:

    “We have to get out of here!” Burt yelled.

    “We’re fine,” Collins reassured him, voice even.

    Finally, it might become:

    Burt clutched Collins arm. “We have to get out of here!” [So I show it is Burt through action, but the exclamation point makes it clear he is yelling.]

    Collins put a hand on Burt’s shoulder. Voice calm, he said: “We’re fine.” [Through action and an adjective I convey that Collins is not rattled. Collin’s reaction also shows character — imagine who different it would read if he shoved off Burt’s hand.]

    Great post!

    • The Ink Slinger says:

      Great point Matt.

      You’re absolutely right that it’s not enough to simply replace adverbs with more descriptive words, and right again that adverbs can be useful place holders in a first draft.

      Thanks for bringing it up!

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