I'm going to say it in a loud voice: SAID IS AN INVISIBLE WORD. PLEASE USE IT.
If you're a seasoned writer, you already know this. But if you're newer to the game, or haven't dived into the arena of feedback and critique partners yet, then you need to hear it.
I'm not sure who to blame here, but my theory is that the propensity to scramble for words to use instead of said comes from a combination of misguided creative writing teachers and an author's quest for originality. To the teachers, I say, "STOP IT." To the urge for originality, I say, "DON'T PRACTICE BEING ORIGINAL ON A WORD NOBODY IS SUPPOSED TO NOTICE."
I recently edited several chapters for a client who seemed to feel it was his duty to avoid said at all costs. It's not his fault--clearly he learned this somewhere along the way (and I sincerely hope I have helped him to unlearn it). Within only a few chapters, I found the following words-that-aren't-said:
Those are all perfectly legitimate words, and some of them are rather juicy. But words like this should be used sparingly or not at all, depending on your genre. When I see words like this in a manuscript, my brain immediately screams, "Thesaurus Abuser!" And it's probably true. Thing is, we don't need to waste time coming up with substitutes for said, because WE DON'T NEED TO CALL ATTENTION TO THIS WORD AT ALL.
"But, Authoress! Sometimes I really do need a word other than said!"
Of course you do. And here are some that you can use with impunity:
ASK (because characters do ask questions sometimes)
WHISPER (if your character is truly whispering, then it's obviously okay to say so)
YELL/SHOUT (but again, only occasionally--it's much more effective to SHOW us that your character is yelling by the words he is speaking, rather than TELLING us)
The rest? Use them the way you would use ghost peppers in your homemade chili.
As for the trusty Thesaurus? DON'T USE IT TO LOOK FOR REPLACEMENTS FOR THE WORD SAID. Not ever. If you're thinking that hard about a dialogue tag, you're putting your energy into the wrong thing.
Just. Use. Said.
"The end", she piped merrily.