Semi-recently, I stumbled upon the first draft I'd ever written. I'll spare you the shameful and wince-worthy details, since there are some things you just shouldn't put people through, but among all its issues, my speaker tags were rampant.
I'm not just talking about using tags other than "said" -- that's another post, and it has a lot of different facets. (Though I had that problem, too. When you use the word "queried" instead of ask in the attempt to change things up, you know things are bad. But it's all in the past, right?)
Nah, I'm talking about attaching speaking tags in general. Especially when there's already an action tag in place. Suzanne Collins is pretty much the queen of this -- I love The Hunger Games and its trilogy, I've made it painfully obvious and redundant in the past, but yeah. She'll set an action tag, lay down the dialogue, and then -- no, no no. A speaker tag. And usually "I say" at that. Eek. Talk about pet peeves.
But hey, like I said. Suzanne Collins can do -- well, some wrong, but not a whole lot.
Besides avoiding my annoyance, cutting all unnecessary tags has another shining benefit: slashing the word count. And if you're anything like me, Word Count is the enemy. (Otherwise, you're lucky. Word-by-word editing is a major pain.)
Here are a couple examples of speaker tags not only done right, but kept at the barest minimum:
Her horse was panicking; he took a deep breath and ran from cover, grabbing it by the bridle. "Get down!"
She jumped, and they both fell. Then they were squirming into the bushes, lying flat, breathless. Around them the forest roared with rain.
"Bruised. Nothing serious."
Claudia dragged soaked hair from her eyes. "I can't believe this. Sia would never order it. Where are they?"
This is from Sapphique, by Catherine Fisher. I think it's excellent -- there's no tag at all from the first line to the last, and even then, it's action-tagging. She doesn't spell out who says what, and she doesn't have to -- as a reader, it really isn't rocket science to figure out.
Here's one more example, from A Swiftly Tilting Planet by Madeleine L'Engle --
Sandy paused, a handful of forks in his hand, to grin at their mother. "Thanksgiving dinner is practically the only meal Mother cooks in the kitchen --"
"--instead of out in the lab on her Bunsen burner," Dennys concluded.
"After all, those Bunsen-burner stews did lead directly to the Nobel Prize. We're really proud of you, Mother, although you and Father give us a heck of a lot to live up to."
"Keeps our standards high."
Sure, this one uses more tags, but I still felt like it was a good example. I'm not exactly loving the phrase "a handful of forks in his hand," but I still love how the twins are always interrupting each other, so I'll let it slide.
Okay, there it is. Speaker tagging -- something better left in small doses. What's your opinion? Speaker tags or action tags? I think a good mix of both is important to keep a natural-sounding balance; do you?