Readers are blind to the word said. When they read they don't even seem to notice it. So why then as writers do we treat it like a four letter word? I know I try to avoid it in any way possible, almost to the detriment of my manuscript. I over emote my characters and give them a billion and one things to do just so I don't have to tag dialogue with the word said. Your characters can only smile, turn to each other, and any other assortment of overused expressions and actions so many times before it gets old, becomes unimportant, and annoys the reader. So why do I avoid said? Because the word drives me bananas. I can't stand the repetition of it. Readers may not notice the word but as a writer I certainly do.
As writers, we like to express our creativity and try to come up with as many possible unique ways to say things. So when it comes to dialogue we apply the same rule. So said, soon becomes, replied, answered, stated, voiced... and on and on and on. The problem is those words don't really tell you anything about what was said or how the dialogue was relayed. And even worse, the constant changing of the tag draws notice, to both readers and writers. The more tags that are used, the more the reader starts paying attention to the tags, which means they aren't paying attention to the story, who's talking, or even what is being said.
Suddenly the writer's creativity has backfired. The reader is paying attention to the writing but in all the wrong ways. What reader ever said, "wow this writer has the most unique way of tagging dialogue?" (see what I did there ;) ) They don't, ever. If they are noticing your dialogue tagging they aren't getting lost in your story. This is bad. When it comes to dialogue the reader should know what is being said, understand it, and know who said it. Plain and simple. If you mix up the dialogue tags too much, the reader is paying attention to the tags in addition to everything else, which is distracting. So do yourself a favor and stick with said. I know it's painful sometimes to see it repeated, trust me, but for the reader it's exactly what they need in order to focus on the important parts of the story.
Do you like to use said in your writing? Does it come naturally or is it like clubbing yourself over the head? As a reader do you notice the use of the word said? What tips do you have for dialogue and tagging?