Some people claim that "said" should be used as a dialogue tag almost exclusively. Yet these same people will complain if you use other words twice in a chapter. Doesn't "said" in every sentence get tiresome?
Yes, it does, if there's a lot of dialogue with a lot of tags. If a book is 20% dialogue, "said" won't feel repetitive. If the book is 80% dialogue, I get sick of reading "said" all the time. The advantage of using "said" a lot is that a lot of writers get a little too creative when trying to vary their dialogue tags.
For example, check out these four lines of dialogue. The first set uses "said" every line, the second set has some variety, but with innocuous replacements for "said," and the third group uses tags that may be descriptive, but also stick out enough that you wouldn't want to use them often.
"Sorry I'm late," Jason said.
"That's okay," Stephanie said. "I just got here."
"Let's go to a motel after we eat," he said.
"I can't," she said. "Too much work to do."
"Sorry I'm late," Jason said.
"That's okay," Stephanie told him. "I just got here."
"Let's go to a motel after we eat," he suggested.
"I can't," she replied. "Too much work to do."
"Sorry I'm late," Jason sobbed.
"That's okay," Stephanie chortled. "I just got here."
"Let's go to a motel after we eat," he bellowed.
"I can't," she puked. "Too much work to do."
When I edit dialogue-heavy fiction I vary the tags. I still use "said" almost half the time, and I've worked out highly scientific ideal use-percentages for every possible tag. You laymen don't need to go into as much depth as that, so I've prepared a chart that should help you determine which tags you can use often and which you should use sparingly.
1. Dialogue tags that are neutral and won't bother readers if they are used frequently:
told (as in told him, told her/me/them/us/Lucy/etc.)
asked (Used exclusively with questions)
replied (Not necessarily to a question; could be to a comment)
answered (Almost exclusively to a quesion)
2. Dialogue tags that have similar meanings to the those above, and may be used a few times per book:
3. Dialogue tags that have specific meanings, and can be used whenever applicable without becoming bothersome as long as their applicability doesn't come up more than once in a chapter:
yelled (and some of its synonyms)
cried (and some of its synonyms)
4. Dialogue tags you can get away with once per book, but only if you haven't used any of the other ones on this list:
5. Dialogue tags you should avoid:
barfed (please have character barf then speak or vice versa)
smiled (pet peeve; you don't smile words)
ejaculated (once a fine choice, now giggle-inducing)
caterwauled (always irritating when an author makes you get out the dictionary on a mere tag)
mooed (unless a cow)
The lists are by no means complete. No need to send in your favorites for lists 1 through 4, as a thesaurus will do. Amusing additions to list 5 will be accepted as comments, but no more than two per customer.