When I finally went back to re-read my first ever completed rough draft, I noticed there were a whole hell of a lot of he said, she said going on. Literally. Not to mention: she whispered, he grimaced, they yelled and we sang. Needless dialog tags were everywhere.
I guess the initial instinct when writing, is to label everything so there’s no confusion to your reader, but I think I discussed once before about trusting the reader to get it. They don’t need everything spelled out. You’re able to let them know who’s doing the speaking by the actions and sentences before and after the line of dialog.
Tags, like adverbs, should be used sparingly. Sometimes they are a necessity, so go ahead and sprinkle them in, BUT try to stick with said and ask. All that gasping and whimpering and exclaiming should be shown by actions. We’re supposed to show, not tell, remember? Again, I don’t think it’s wrong to use them on occasion, but don’t be surprised if someone in editing tells you to ditch them.
Another way to help get across who’s doing the talking is by the character’s voice. Like real people, your characters should have different personalities and different quirks to their speech. Those things will help the reader understand right away who’s speaking. If one of your characters is little Miss Prime and Proper, frequent church going virginal teen who thinks a blow job is when someone gets their hair straightened at the salon, you know the line of dialog chock full of cursing and sexual references will not be coming out of her pristine mouth.
Once again I’m going to suggest reading your dialog out loud to make sure it flows well. If you’re constantly hearing yourself saying he said she said or stopping the flow of the conversation to read the tags, then you should probably edit some more of them out. In this instance, you may want to bring in a friend to help portray the different characters. Exchanging lines of dialog aloud with another person makes the conversation that much more realistic. It’s always helpful to have an additional set of eyes and ears going over your work as well.