"All that I ask is that you do as well as you can, and remember that, while to write adverbs is human, to write he said or she said is divine." - Stephen King
The purpose of a dialog tag (according to me) is to help a reader determine when someone is speaking and who is speaking. As a story goes along and the reader gets to know your characters, dialog tags become less important. Why? Because readers can be lazy and tend to skim over things that seem unimportant.
So, for something that most readers tend to ignore, why have writers started avoiding "said" like the plague?
I am not 100% sure why, but I have a feeling it has to do with English teachers trying to enhance their students' vocabularies. If you do a simple Google search for "said is dead" 100s, if not 1000s, of worksheets pull up with "said" substitutes. Some of the substitutes make sense and others make for immature or clumsy writing.
Substitutes That Make Sense
Substitutes That Confuse Me
For me, the ones that make sense work because they indicated how the sentence is being said (though this could also be done with appropriate context clues in the dialog and scene.) The ones that confuse me just don't make sense. "Hello," he grinned makes ZERO sense. Why? Because grinning isn't speaking. "Hello," he said with a grin on his face/ while grinning, makes more sense. Whenever I read a story full of awkward ways to say said, I end up falling out of the story and wind up distracted.
I also find myself distracted when a writer uses too many adverbs after said/dialog tag. He yelled loudly (the fact that he is yelling should be enough to indicate that he was being loud.) She said sadly (again, context clues within the scene and dialog should alert the reader to how things are being said while also allowing the reader to use their imagination.)
So, when should you use something other than said? When it is organic, natural, and most importantly, when you're not using the other word just to avoid using said.
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