[Write On Wednesday] Dreadful Dialogue Tags

Conventional writing wisdom (these days) says that the mark of an amateur writer is to use colorful dialogue tags instead of a simple ‘she said’. Nevertheless, teachers continue to foist alternatives to ‘said’ on our children. Today’s assignment is designed to show you just how ridiculous that can become.

 Have fun!

And, if you’re near King of Prussia, PA, tonight, come out to the StoryADay Live! “Un-Dreadful Dialogue” workshop  hosted by the fabulous Main Line Writers’ Group!

Thumbnail of 100 words poster - alternatives to saidThe Prompt

Write a story featuring lots of dialogue. Every time you attribute speech to a person you must use one of the ‘alternatives to said’ from the sheet.
(Click to enlarge)


  • Make sure you rely entirely on the tags to convey the emotion, leaving the dialogue itself bland and without character.
  • Bonus points for making all your characters sound the same.
  • Be as ridiculous as you like.
  • This exercise works particularly well when your subject matter is serious or shocking.
  • This whole exercise is designed to show you how ridiculous dialogue tags can wreck a serious story.
  • (Remember, “he said” and “she said” become invisible when you use them well. These tags never will.)
  • Make sure every single utterance has a tag, whether or not you need one. (e.g. in the case of two people speaking, you can often get away with no tags at all, especially if the conversation is short and the voices are distinct.)
  • Read it (and weep).



One thought on “[Write On Wednesday] Dreadful Dialogue Tags”

  1. If it Looks like Rain and Walks like a Spider, it must be a Good Day to Stay Inside

    “I wonder if I’ll need an umbrella today,” she wondered.
    “Well,” he observed, “it does look like I see rain clouds.”
    “Hmm, yes well, I suppose I’ll take it along then,” she commented as she opened the closet door and took the umbrella off its designated hook. She opened the door. “Oh my God! It’s a giant spider!” she screamed.
    “Yech! I hate spiders! Step on it, step on it!” he shrieked.
    “No, no,” she panted as she slammed the door closed. “It’s h-huge,” she stammered.
    “Too big to step on?” he questioned.
    “Too big,” she affirmed.
    “Well, now it’s going to crawl under the door,” he whined.
    “No. It’s not,” she stated as she turned the deadbolt and stepped back.
    “It’s not?” he asked.
    “It’s too big,” she snapped. “It’s, like, the size of a Beetle,” she further commented.
    He replied: “A…bug?”
    “No, dammit, the Volkswagen,” she snapped again. “Like, like, a friggin’ Fiat,” she stammered.
    “It’s as big as a car?” he asked.
    “Go look yourself,” she instructed. “But not out the door!” she interjected when he reached for the deadbolt. “The window. Look out the window,” she scolded.
    “Oh my God! It’s a giant spider,” he bawled. “That’s way bigger than a Smart car,” he hyperventilatingly observed.
    “Who said anything about a Smart car?” she growled. “Yes. It’s bigger than a Smart car—“ she began.
    “It could crush a Smart car,” he interrupted.
    “Which is why,” she insisted, “I didn’t compare it to a Smart car.”
    “A Volkswagen, though, those are tough,” he noted. “Hey, what kind of spider is that anyway?” he blurted.
    “I didn’t really take the time to look,” she replied. “Let me look,” she stated as she crept back to the window for a peek. “Ah,” she sighed. “It’s not a black widow because it’s not black,” she observed.
    “And it doesn’t have the red hour glass,” he added.
    “Right,” she replied. “Wait, does it matter?” she interjected. “I mean,” she wondered, “won’t it eat us no matter what type it is?” She continued, “They’re not like dinosaurs.”
    “Meaning?” he asked.
    “It’s not like some of them are plant eaters and some are T-rexes,” she commented. “They all eat bugs,” she instructed.
    “And we’re the size of bugs,” he stated, putting the pieces together.
    “So,” she mused, “How do bugs escape spiders?”
    “Well, they don’t fly into the web,” he opined. “Oh God, is there a web?” he groaned. “That just grosses me out,” he gagged. “Like when you walk into a spider web?” he reminded her. “It’s so gross and this one would be so much bigger,” he gulped.
    “We’re jumping ahead of ourselves,” she insisted.
    “No we’re not!” he denied.
    “Yes,” she hissed. “Didn’t you get a big thing of toilet paper from the store yesterday?” she asked.
    “Yes,” he stated.
    “Okay, so we live in a country with the best damn military in the world,” she bragged. “We can wait out the spider in here and let the military handle the spider out there,” she advised.
    “We’ve got enough toilet paper to last us a while,” he mentioned.
    “And when this is all over, I will dance on the bloody corpse of that spider,” she vowed.
    “Hairy, bulbous, bloody corpse,” he reiterated.
    “Blech,” she gurgled.
    “So,” he chatted as she re-hung the umbrella on its designated hook, “wanna see what’s on Netflix?”

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