Another in my occasional series of blogs to prove that I know everything there is to know about writing.
Some people call them ‘tags’, others ‘identifiers’ – those bits you add after a character’s speech such as ‘he said’, ‘John growled’, ‘she exclaimed’ etc etc. The best advice I can give here is to think of them as gold coins: try to get what you need while spending as few as possible!
It should be possible, especially if there are only two people present in a scene, to get away with quite a bit of unattributed dialogue. If the conversation goes on for a while, you will need to toss in the odd he said/she said to allow the reader to easily keep track of who is speaking, but avoid the temptation to prevent things becoming boring by embellishing all the time.
Over-doing the whole ‘he grumbled’, ‘she complained’ thing is one of the things that will often mark you out to an editor as an inexperienced writer. There are times when a bit of added information will help. ‘Thank you very much’ sounds pretty straightforward – but it might well be said sarcastically, grudgingly or whatever and the reader might not be able to pick up on that without being told. (Although even then it can sometimes still be obvious within the context of the conversation.) Often, though, these additions simply clutter the writing and interrupt the flow of the dialogue and are simply not necessary.
This is especially true of the self-evident ones:
‘I HATE you!’ he said angrily
‘I’m going to kill you,’ he said menacingly
As with many other aspects of writing, and with the proviso that this is coming from an unashamedly minimalistic writer, the bottom line is to examine whether certain words are necessary, whether they add anything useful, and if not leave them out.