Dialog tags. Where would we be without them?
Let’s ask Girl and Boy what they think:
“I don’t know.”
“I just said I didn’t, didn’t I?”
“Did you say it or did I say it?”
“I’m not sure. Which one of us is talking right now?”
And this is why we need them. So the issue at hand for writers isn’t whether or not to use them, but how sparingly and which ones. As writers and readers we know there are essentially two teams:
Team 1 says only use “he said, she said” or “she asked, he asked” (and sometimes the second option is even discouraged).
Team 2 favors the more demonstrative tags, the use of exclaims and snaps and shouts and whispers, etc, etc. etc…(and let’s not forget the often-overused adverbs, wherein we whisper quietly or shout loudly.)
For me, I fall somewhere in the middle of the two (as I suspect a lot of people do.) Some days, I am fearless when I write. I stick to the basics. I use only said and asked, and I strike out adverbs before they can reach the keyboard. But I won’t lie–it’s a battle. My inclination is always to use something else, and to, yes, tack on that dreaded adverb. I did so some in LITTLE GALE GUMBO and I assume I will do it some more in my next novel. But sparingly.
Because the truth is that the strongest dialog doesn’t need a tag to clarify its intention. As so many writers teach, the words being said should be enough indication.
Jill folded her arms, her eyes narrowing. “Must be nice being so perfect at everything,” she snapped snarkily.
Now I’m betting you already guessed the tone of that line even before you read the tag, which, frankly, comes a little too late anyway to be of much use to the reader. Now if you didn’t get the gist of the speaker’s tone, well then, the dialog should probably be reworked.
So fellow writers and readers, which team are you?