“The accusations in this article are garbage,” Victor growled.
Developing writers often try to replace the word “said” with a more exciting verb. But is that necessary? The answer is usually no. Overuse and misuse of said bookisms can lead to writing that sounds amateurish, like Victor growling in the sample sentence above.
Here are some questions to think about when using said bookisms in dialog tags:
Visualize your character performing the action the tag describes. For example, the word “growled” conjures an image of an angry animal. When I read it, I imagine Victor baring his teeth like a wolf ready to attack. Using unbelievable tags can pull readers away from your dialogue and even make your writing sound silly. Avoid characters that speak while smiling, smirking, laughing, squealing, shuddering and growling.
2. Is the said bookism stronger than the dialogue?
In other words, does your character need to bawl, shriek, frown or laugh? To avoid melodramatic tags, try to strengthen your dialog so you don’t need a said bookism:
“I’ll have him arrested,” said Victor. “The accusations in this article are garbage.”Sometimes, it’s as simple as adding punctuation:
“The accusations in this article are garbage!” said Victor.
Sometimes you need to use a said bookism to give readers a clue about what a character is thinking. If you must use an alternative to “said,” then choose a word that best describes the idea to your readers:
“The accusations in this article are garbage,” Victor surmised.Instead of
“The accusations in this article are garbage,” Victor thought.
Most of the time, you can get away with eliminating the tag altogether by showing your character in action:
Victor slammed the paper onto his desk. “The accusations in this article are garbage!”
Review what you’ve written leading up to the dialogue. If you’ve done a good job with scene setting and character development, a “said” tag should be enough:
“The accusations in this article are garbage,” Victor said.
Readers barely notice said tags in well-written manuscripts.