somebody-saidOur thanks to media relations expert and award-winning author Christina Hamlett for this guest post. Graphic provided by

When I was a teen, I had an aversion to using “said” in a story. It was blah. It was ordinary. It was pedestrian. Why use “said”, I thought, when there were so many words that were way more expressive? Throughout high school English classes, my characters squealed, pontificated, reflected, mused and accused.

As if that weren’t enough to liven up their dialogue, I was also generous in my deployment of adverbs. After all, who’s going to be a scarier villain: the one who “growled menacingly” or the one who said, “If you don’t give me the money, I’ll kill you”?

Being a voracious reader, I always paid special attention to how published authors handled this issue. I remember at age 12 going into the kitchen to ask my mother what “ejaculated” meant. “What?!” she responded, nearly dropping whatever she was holding at the time. I showed her the latest Nancy Drew mystery I was reading. “It’s right here,” I said, pointing to a passage that read, “Wow! That’s great news, Nancy,” Ned ejaculated.

Trying to keep a straight face, my mother explained that it meant Ned was really excited. Perhaps more so than he should have been in the context of a YA novel. She recommended it not be a word I introduce into my own vocabulary.

By the time I started publishing my own work, I was fortunate to have editors who pointed out that the habit of euphemizing the word “said” was to the detriment of the actual dialogue. Its quiet obscurity, they pointed out, was what allowed readers to skip over it and pay attention to what the characters were communicating. Throw a word like “elucidated” into the mix and it either sends a reader running to the nearest dictionary or colors her view that the author is a snob.

As a screenplay consultant, I read a lot of scenes where writers try to explain exactly how a line should be delivered. This is problematic on two counts. The first is that actors don’t like being told what to do by anyone other than directors. Secondly, many of these instructions defy comprehension. How, for instance, does one “blanch uncontrollably”, “smile successfully” or “swear gracefully”?

Listed below are some of the stranger combinations I’ve encountered (or, 50 ways not to say “says”). At the end of the day, sometimes “said” isn’t such a bad thing after all.

  1. laughing maniacally
  2. cackling hysterically
  3. grimacing furtively
  4. laughing satirically
  5. smiling aggressively
  6. whistling angrily
  7. blushing fiercely
  8. glaring impassively
  9. staring aimlessly
  10. blanching uncontrollably
  11. swallowing lazily
  12. chuckling wistfully
  13. shouting hesitantly
  14. seething wholeheartedly
  15. coughing defiantly
  16. chuckling contagiously
  17. leering mightily
  18. shouting orgasmically
  19. blinking rhythmically
  20. shrugging moronically
  21. smiling soberly
  22. staring wildly
  23. sighing incessantly
  24. yawning cavernously
  25. gloating boldly
  26. sneering leerily
  27. sighing soulfully
  28. smirking ruefully
  29. groaning disparagingly
  30. nodding emphatically
  31. stretching indifferently
  32. smiling rhetorically
  33. fainting forcefully
  34. sneezing emphatically
  35. smiling successfully
  36. smiling diagonally
  37. whispering haughtily
  38. yawning seductively
  39. grinning gnashingly
  40. breathing darkly
  41. thinking sporadically
  42. whimpering mincingly
  43. scowling convincingly
  44. chirping amicably
  45. fidgeting wildly
  46. guessing blindly
  47. grinning indifferently
  48. listening suggestively
  49. barking congestedly
  50. swearing gracefully 

ChristinaChristina Hamlett is a media relations expert and award-winning author whose credits to date include 30 books, 156 stage plays, 5 optioned feature films, and hundreds of articles and interviews that appear online and in national/international trade publications. In addition, she is a script consultant for the film industry (which means she stops lots of really bad movies from coming to theaters near you) and a professional ghostwriter (which does not mean she talks to dead people). Learn more  at

14 thoughts on “No One Ever Just “Says” Something: 50 Ways Not to Say “Says”

  • August 25, 2014 at 2:16 pm

    Sorry for the tatty note filled with “wordos” and typos and punctuation from hell. My circadian rhythm fumbles around Mondays after a martini lunch. Or is this Friday? 🙂

  • August 25, 2014 at 2:12 pm

    Great item. Proof adverbs kills. Sorry if I’m being earnest by making a suggestion. It’s just that you’ve on a scary problem that has a useful adjunct to dialogue, adding action, place, time, etc.:

    “Get up stand in the corner.” He turned his head, indicating the wall with the fireplace.
    “No.” That was unexpected. There was a pause. This had become a confrontation.
    “All right. I’ll call the authorities.”
    “Don’t do that.”
    “Then just give in. No more freaking adverbs.”

    🙂 Jeff

  • August 25, 2014 at 2:07 pm

    It took me a long time to accept that using “said” was so much better and makes the dialogue “pop”…A great article…

  • August 25, 2014 at 11:41 am

    This post was fun and confirmed what other successful writers have been advising. Thanks for the reminder that it’s the very obscurity of “said” that allows readers to focus on the characters’ doings and feelings that advance the story.

    • August 25, 2014 at 1:27 pm

      Thanks, Flora. I’ve also noticed in reviewing novels how many writers use “said” (or something else) after every single line of dialogue even if there are only two people in the room.

      “That’s awesome, Jack,” she said.
      “Thanks, Sally,” Jack replied. “I’m glad you liked it.”
      “I like everything you do,” Sally said.
      “Do you mean that?” he asked.
      “Of course I do,” she answered.

      I think most readers could follow who was saying what. In my own writing, I only insert a reminder if it’s an especially long conversation or if it’s being broken up with bits of action.

  • August 25, 2014 at 11:23 am

    My day is certainly never dull when I encounter these quirky gems. In fact, I once brought out the list at a dinner party and everyone took turns delivering their interpretation of what they thought each one meant. As for “ejaculating,” there’s a popular Regency Romance author who uses that word frequently and I can’t for the life of me figure out why.

  • August 25, 2014 at 11:17 am

    Great stuff. Thank you so much for being a guest blogger and sharing your knowledge and experience.

    • August 25, 2014 at 1:28 pm

      Polly – Am always happy to share what I’ve learned about screenwriting, playwriting and novels over the course of four decades. (“Even though I only claim to be 35,” she wickedly revealed.)

  • August 25, 2014 at 10:52 am

    This was great. My favorite is “barking congestedly.” I’m trying to imagine how that sounds, and I’m assuming it’s like an asthma attack. Thanks!

    • August 25, 2014 at 11:04 am

      Must be… or consumptive 🙂 Nice for a bit of useful humor to lighten our Monday… Christina is a hoot and so happy to have her contributing!

    • August 25, 2014 at 1:31 pm

      I encounter “barked” quite a bit as well as “yipped,” “howled” and “bayed.” I can only conclude from this that the writers are dog lovers. The only evidence of a cat lover is when someone seductively “purrs.”

      • August 25, 2014 at 8:18 pm

        Aye, along with brayed, viciously snarled (or snapped), and for us cat lovers, spat menacingly… Haven’t encountered coughed up a fur ball yet, but maybe I’ll use that one 🙂

  • August 25, 2014 at 10:30 am

    Hilarious…I don’t remember “ejaculated” in the Nancy Drew books that I read! How could I have skimmed over that one? I once had an editor advise me to do a search (via MS Word) for ‘ly’. There they were right in front of me… thousands of them! This tangible proof was the beginning of the cure. The next time we spoke, I was effusive in my thanks. “You are welcome,” she said.

    • August 25, 2014 at 11:03 am

      LOL… I was (am) a big “ly” offender, too. Never realized just how bad ’til I read Stephen King’s “On Writing” and did the same thing with the LY find… with horrific results (she wailed morosely, ha). Who knew Nancy and Ned were so edgy?!

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