What’s the easiest way to indicate that your characters are speaking? “said” is by far the most effective and least obtrusive dialogue tag. However, excessive use of “said” can lead to a boring and monotonous dialogue with little expression. To add necessary emotion or flavor to the scene, you have to use other terms as necessary.
In a suspenseful scene where the characters have to be careful not to be heard, “said” is certainly not as appropriate as “whispered.” Similarly, in a heated, emotionally charged fight between lovers, “shrieked” or “hollered” conveys the scene much more effectively than “said.”
Keep in mind that it’s also common to leave out dialogue tags entirely in a back-and-forth between two characters. You can use the initial tag (e.g., “said,” “whispered,” “hollered”) to set the tone, and all subsequent dialogue will be assumed to follow suit unless specified otherwise.
If you need something more expressive than “said” but aren’t sure what the perfect word for your situation is, this detailed chart can help you. Here are 476 alternatives to “said.