René Penn

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He “Said.” But What If He Scowled?

my_tweet-4The word “said” seems like such an innocuous word. But when you’re writing a book, those “said” uses really start to stick out.  Now Novel talks about dialogue tags and mentions that other words for “said” can indicate emotion, tone, and volume. How many times do we see the word “said” in a novel? It varies, obviously. But out of curiosity, I pulled a few books from my shelf and did a quick “said” count for their first 25 pages.


  • Sense and Sensibility, Jane Austen—12 “said” count
  • Madame Bovary, Gustave Flaubert—11 “said” count (including one “saying”)
  • The Human Stain, Phlip Roth—14 “said”/”saying”/”say” count

For my manuscript, the “said” count is 22 by page 25. Seems a little high based on the three books above. During my third draft, I am going to work on lowering this number. Below is a short list of words that can be used to replace “said.”

  • muttered
  • scoffed
  • continued
  • pointed out
  • pronounced
  • cut in
  • nodded
  • asked
  • remarked
  • sobbed
  • murmured
  • quipped
  • suggested
  • replied
  • relented
  • chortled
  • answered
  • added
  • shot back
  • exclaimed
  • frowned
  • spoke up
  • put in
  • echoed
  • interjected
  • amended
  • admitted
  • scolded
  • mused
  • pressed
  • returned
  • admonished
  • announced
  • repeated
  • scowled
  • explained

Looking for a longer list of words to use other than said—one that’s like 300 words long? Check out this article. Another option for “said” is to describe facial expressions.

What have you done to rise above, or tone down, the he “said,” she “said” in your novel?