Overuse of the Word "Said" in Writing

Updated on October 10, 2019
RGraf profile image

Rebecca Graf is a seasoned writer with nearly a decade of experience and degrees in accounting, history, and creative writing.

The most used dialogue tag is “said." I am astounded at how many of us writers use it over and over to the point of it ruining the story. After nearly every piece of dialogue, a writer puts in "he said" or "she said." This gets very old after a while and even gives the piece a juvenile appearance.

Dangers of the Overuse of Certain Words

Some might wonder what is the big deal about using said so much when tagged with dialogue. It's just one little word. That might be true, that one word can make a big difference. Here are two very big results of overusing "said":

Childish Sounding

Overuse of this dialogue tag can make your writing sound childish. Ever hear of the Dick and Jane books? They were school books many decades ago used to help children look to read. A lot of the stories went like this:

Dick ran. Jane sat down. "Look over there," Jane said. "Where?" Dick asked.

While I seriously doubt your writing is that elementary, it can start to sound like this when you use said with every single dialogue piece. Remember that the dialogue alone tells the reader someone said something. You don't have to tell them the obvious. Instead, use words that enhance the dialogue instead of bringing it down to the kindergarten level.

Reflects Badly on Author

Overusing "said" can look badly on you. Truthfully, if I read a story that uses the dialogue tag too much, I get bored easily. That means I might not finish the book or take too long to finish it. The review will reflect that. Show readers that you have a mature sense of writing style and give them excitement instead of boredom.

Avoiding "Said"

There are many other ways to say the same thing, and those other ways can be so much more descriptive and give the story depth. In other words, there are alternatives.

There are simple replacements: replied, answered, stated, remarked. These say the same thing but stop the redundancy. It doesn't feel as much like a Dick and Jane book. These are words you can use to vary how the words sound, but they still might not do the job of really enhancing the story.

Some authors suggest avoiding dialogue tags altogether which would eliminate the too much ‘said’ problem. I think not having them with every piece of dialogue could be a good thing, but tossing them completely out might be a really bad thing. These tags can be very beneficial when you find other words to use instead of ‘said’.

“The train will be here before he gets the job done,” Jack said.

Depending on the rest of the writing before and after this sentence, we probably know who said it. Dialogue tags work better if there would be confusion as to who said what. Let’s assume in this example we need it, but we’ve used ‘said’ enough as it is. We don’t want our readers to think we have a limited vocabulary.

This is where we need to know our character and the situation he is in. What is Jack’s emotional state? If he is excited, you could say ‘Jack exclaimed’. What imagery does that give you? If you had used "said", then it doesn't have the emotional energy in it that "exclaimed" does. Your mind creates an entirely different view of Jack talking. Other words for this emotion would be shouted, pointed out, insisted. Is he angry? Then use barked, spat, snarled.

Notice how the replacement words become descriptive of the action instead of stating the action. We know Jack said the words. The scene makes that clear. The quotation marks told us that, but how did he say them. Give us an idea of his emotion so we can hear the words. ‘Said’ is bland. ‘Snarled’ gives the words a whole new meaning. We see his lips curled and his eyes narrowed. The writer doesn't have to give all those descriptions of him using "snarled". The tone of words change. Everything about what he said has taken on new meaning.

Why You Should Self-Edit "Said"

When you are editing your own work, focus on how many times you use ‘said’. Go through and replace every other one with a different word that better fits the emotion and mood of the dialogue and speaker. That one "small" change can give depth to your story.

Also, see how you can remove the dialogue tag completely and just show the actions of the character. Maybe show a facial expression or something that enhances the scene instead of being repetitive or states the obvious.


    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment
    • profile image

      Future Writer 

      2 years ago


    • k@ri profile image

      Kari Poulsen 

      2 years ago from Ohio

      Great advice. :)


    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, hobbylark.com uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at: https://maven.io/company/pages/privacy

    Show Details
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the googleapis.com or gstatic.com domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)
    ClickscoThis is a data management platform studying reader behavior (Privacy Policy)