They can do more than just tell the reader who is speaking

Speech tags can be as simple as said or as complicated as three paragraphs of hand motions. Said is best used, in my humble opinion, when the dialogue is important and you want the reader's full attention. Hand motions and facial expressions are good for emphasizing how characters respond to the dialogue or even just for exhibiting mannerisms that help establish their character. This list includes speech tags that I've found in various works and the only reason for maintaining this list is so I can occasionally browse through it when I'm searching for just the right way to describe something and I think said isn't quite the right word.


Adding adverbs allows the author to convey emphasis and feeling and can be an excellent device for conveying how the person speaking feels or even how the person hearing the words thinks the person feels. The author needs to be cautious, however, in the use of adverbs after the word, said as this can degrade into Tom Swifties. [Yes, Tom said swiftly.] They should be used sparingly and appropriately.

Said Michael, in an extremely neutral tone.

Said soothingly

Said plainly

Said cheerily

Said faintly

asked quietly

Other says of adding more depth include all of the following:

Same arctic voice

he began, and stalled

in a tone of mild encouragement

fell into a digestive silence

noted with dark amusement

He went on more confidently

Pointed out

In a decidedly odd tone

Cleared his throat, and began

Sputtered, momentarily beyond words

Crying openly now, thin strained sobs

Reporting how the person responds to the last line said can also convey a great deal

Looked quite stunned, his mouth slightly open.

Leaned forward, staring avidly

eyed him dubiously

Screwed up her mouth, and shook her head

Raised an inquiring eyebrow at this

Glanced aside

Grimaced hopelessly

Looked indignant, then blinked

Studied Michael dubiously, shrugged, and advanced toward the bay window.

Nodded and withdrew

Sighed bitter agreement

Shot him an annoyed, wary look

Smile faded from wry to pensive

Looked pleased, watching him fold so neatly

Let him burble on until he ran down

Renewed wariness closed down the expression on his face

She looked away from him. Mumbled diffidently...

Sighed dreamily

Agreed sunnily

Smiled hopefully

Her expression was disturbingly fey

His answering smile seemed to lighten his eyes

Sincere, if daunted confusion

Hand gestures include:

Opened her hands back to him

Gestured to the chair opposite him, across the low table

Tented his hands in a gesture of reason

In a supremely sinister gesture...

Waved it away

Gestured helplessly, and gave her an earnest look

Body language includes:

His eyes narrowed

Lips twisted in sympathy with her expression

Tried to rub the involuntary smile from her lips, and failed

Laughed painfully

Wrenched a short little nod from her and a brief, bleak

Walked backwards a moment, watching her retreat. She strode on, head down, and didn't look back. Shaking his head, Michael passed out of sight.

Inspired to a touch of malice, Michael let his brows climb

Kept his expression to no more than a faint, slight smile.

Rubbed his chin

lips were tight and eyes a little blurry as he digested Michael's words

Stared at her in astonishment, his lips moved on one or two tries at speech, before his mouth at last made it into motion.

Seated himself a little stiffly as if not altogether comfortable

Smile remained fixed

Eyed Michael in growing conjecture

Smirked, obviously satisfied at Michael's dismay

Pressed his lips thoughtfully together


Gritted his teeth

Pursed his lips, then tried not to smile too broadly

Waited impatiently

Looked at him inquiringly

Face softened at the mention of her name, and he paused, an odd smile playing on his lips

His face stiff

eyed her with extreme wariness

Inner thoughts:

The unacknowledged panic which had gripped his throat for weeks seemed to ease, as he stared out into the sunny scene below.

Hesitated, his stomach tightening in distaste for the task ahead

*****clutching for coherence in her seething brain

Methods of announcing someone approaching:

Voices drifted up from the entry hall.

Voices carried faintly from the house through the open windows into the back garden, too muffled to make out the words. One was a low-pitched male rumble. The other was...