Let’s face it: When writing dialogues between characters, repetition can tend to sneak up on us: He said, she said, he whispered, she whispered, and so on. There are a few tricks I’d like to share with you that I’ve learned along the way; one is regarding grammar, and the other is my own twist on dealing with the issue.
Regarding grammar, action verbs can often take the place of the more passive verbs (such as said): “He said, ‘I’d like that.’” can be spiced up by giving him an action to do (“He picked up the travel brochure and flipped through it: ‘I’d like that.’”) The second sentence gives more context, and is more visually engaging for the reader. Keep in mind that every word should count; don’t pad out the sentence just for word count, or make each exchange in the conversation a prop advertisement; but punctuating a dialogue with such moments can bring it to life.
My own twist is a literal one – a CD: I took an old one, covered both sides with blank CD labels, and wrote all of the synonyms (listed below) for say and said in a spiral, starting in the centre, changing colours for each new letter of the alphabet. To use it, I just put it on my finger and spin it around as I read through the spiral until I find the word that best fits my sentence. I have several such CDs within reach of my computer (another CD, for instance, is for walk synonyms, and another for lie/lay); if you make enough of them, you could keep them in a CD pouch. Here’s my list of the words around Say (click on the image to enlarge):
A word of advice to those of you for whom English is not mother-tongue: Depending on the word, the sentence structure may need to be adapted. If you’re unsure how to use a word, I would recommend looking it up on Wordnik, and reading the examples on the right-hand side of the page; then choose the sentence structure, prepositions, etc. that are more frequent than not.
I hope that this list helps you say what you want with the variety and precision you’re aiming for! Feel free to reblog! Feel free to print this list out and use it; if you pass it on online please put a hyperlink back to this blog, or recommend my blog if you pass it on by word of mouth… thank you!
If you can think of any words or phrases to replace say or said that I missed in the list above, please put them in the comments below! Keep writing!
4 responses to “Say It Well”
Uhh! I had a glance at the list and would never use so many, out of sheer non-acquaintance. So thank you for introducing Wordnik to me as well!
Glad to help! Expanding one’s vocabulary is never a bad thing! 😉
Wow! Your handwriting looks like a good sans-serif font. Mine is worse than my doctor’s.
Seriously, the example with the travel brochure makes the point beautifully. While spinning a CD might be overkill for somebody who is not specifically concerned about “say”-saturated dialog, I do find it helpful to think about synonyms and near-synonyms for words that appear often in my early drafts.
Thanks! 😉 I use the CD mainly in the editing process, if I need to shake things up a bit – it makes me think about sentence structure and how to bring more action in when needed.