Instead of whispered, consider:
- said in an undertone
- said low
- said into someone’s ear
- said softly
- said under one’s breath
- said in hushed tones
These posts make me unreasonably cranky. So cranky, in fact, that every time a new one of these goddamn things crosses my dash, I’m just going to dissect them. Both for the edification of newer writers and because fuck these lists.
As mentioned in previous posts: These are not synonyms for whispered. You can’t use them interchangeably. Let’s go through them.
“Well,” she whispered, “I suppose I haven’t got a choice.”
The character is speaking in a voice so low it’s become words made of breath, probably because she doesn’t want to be heard.
“Well,” she murmured, “I suppose I haven’t got a choice.”
The character is saying this very quietly, but above a whisper. She may be talking to herself.
“Well,” she mumbled, “I suppose I haven’t got a choice.”
The character is speaking under her breath in low enough tones that her words may sound unclear or slurred. Also very possibly talking to herself.
“Well,” she muttered, “I suppose I haven’t got a choice.”
The character is speaking lowly, but more clearly than a mumble. She sounds angry, irritated, or dully frustrated.
“Well,” she breathed, “I suppose I haven’t got a choice.”
Breathing words may mean relief, exasperation, or exhaustion, and sound half like a sigh. Oh, look—
“Well,” she sighed, “I suppose I haven’t got a choice.”
The character is almost certainly not happy. She’s speaking in a tired, heavy breath.
“Well,” she hissed, “I suppose I haven’t got a choice.”
The character’s words are coming out in low, very sharp breaths. She sounds angry, irritated, or maybe just in an intense moment.
“Well,” she mouthed, “I suppose I haven’t got a choice.”
The character is using the barest hint of her voice, if any at all. Her lips are silently forming the syllables.
“Well,” she uttered, “I suppose I haven’t got a choice.”
Using uttered in this particular type of descriptive sense actually just sounds awkward. That said, ‘utter’ sounds like a word that implies speech in low yet strong and loud tones, well-enunciated, like someone preaching.
“Well,” she intoned, “I suppose I haven’t got a choice.”
The tone of her voice is dull and flat, with little variance in pitch. She is saying this without much emotion (intentionally or not).
“Well,” she purred, “I suppose I haven’t got a choice.”
The manner she’s speaking in is silky, smooth, and particularly pleased; quite possibly smug. In this particular example, this implies she probably does have a choice about [whatever it is] and is being facetious.
“Well,” she said in an undertone, “I suppose I haven’t got a choice.”
This is bad, because an undertone is something that needs describing. That’s like saying “her dress was a color”.
“Well,” she gasped, “I suppose I haven’t got a choice.”
The character is speaking in a sharp intake of breath, probably brought on by surprise or shock. She could also be short of breath, being strangled or something.
“Well,” she hinted, “I suppose I haven’t got a choice.”
The character has particular (duh) hint-hint tones in her voice as she speaks to someone. One can just imagine her leaning over closer to their ear.
“Well,” she said low, “I suppose I haven’t got a choice.”
Her voice has dropped below normal pitch, but is above a whisper. There’s a certain amount of dullness in the tone, probably.
“Well,” she said, into his ear, “I suppose I haven’t got a choice.”
This implies nothing about the actual voice, just that she’s literally speaking right into his ear (perhaps at normal volume, which would be painful). It doesn’t, on its own, carry any connotations of tone or emotion.
“Well,” she said softly, “I suppose I haven’t got a choice.”
I have a personal beef with the word “softly” on account of writers in a certain area of a certain MMO that use that word for fucking everything; speech, movement, touch, footsteps, because it helps to passively describe their character as delicate and pretty or something.
It’s a personal beef. There’s nothing really wrong with the word. Moving on.
Saying something softly implies not only a lowered pitch but a certain gentleness (or at least lack of weight) in tone.
“Well,” she said under her breath, “I suppose I haven’t got a choice.”
This is very like muttered, murmured, etc — it sounds (dur) breathier, and is more likely to imply a person talking to themselves.
“Well,” she said in hushed tones, “I suppose I haven’t got a choice.”
Now you’re getting closer to an equal term for “whispered”; hushed tones could mean that, or half-whispered. It does imply a certain amount of whisperiness or breathiness. It also implies a deliberate attempt to be quiet.
“Well,” she insinuated, “I suppose I haven’t got a choice.”
Like with ‘uttered’, this feels grammatically weird in that it’s usually a thing a person describes another person as doing (“Greg didn’t say it, but he insinuated it!”), but whatever. It’s similar to hinting; it means you’re trying to imply or subtly convey something, but has nothing to do with actual whispers.
tl;dr Those words are all different, these lists are terrible writing advice and people need to stop pulling tangentially-related words from the thesaurus and saying they all mean the same thing.
as i tell my students:
“use the precise word, not the word that kinda sorta fits or ‘sounds more impressive’ ”
use exactly the word you MEAN
THIS THIS THIS OH MY GOD THIS.
I fucking hate those lists, they drive me batshit. Put down the thesaurus and back away slowly.
‘Stop this bullshit,’ wiwaxia said sotto voce.
I never understood this type of writing advise. Creative writing is not a contest to never use the same word twice.
A thesaurus is good for when you can’t think of the exact word you’re
looking for and you look up a similar one and go through the list and
then – bam! – that’s exactly the word you were looking for in that
context. Using random similar words for no good reason just makes a text weird and incomprehensible.
And you know what? Not every fucking dialogue line needs a god damn speech tag. You should only indicate who is saying it to be helpful, in case it is confusing, or in case the exchange is long. You should also NEVER INDICATE ANYTHING THAT DOESN’T NEED TO BE INDICATED. Like who the fuck cares if she whispers if she is home alone, talking to herself, UNLESS you need to indicate an emotion, or that someone is overhearing her. Please leave something to the reader, and for fuck’s sake, please stop making everything so god damn passive. I HATE it when a character’s emotions are only indicated in descriptions of how they do something, rather than what they do, what they say, how they make others feel. UGH
Thank you for this. And yes, use the PRECISE WORD, and if there isn’t one, then try not using a word at all, try rethinking how you’ve written the entire sentence.