Dialog tags were drilled into me throughout most of my life. I never had a problem with them until two years ago. I started writing a story that features a mostly female cast. The characters don’t stand around talking about the men in the story, they don’t discuss makeup secrets. They talk about things important to them and their survival. They hold entire conversations, one on one, about growing, learning, healing, and becoming something more than what they are today. This leads to conversations that, if the proper dialog tags were used, would read “…” She said. “…” She said. “…” She said.
Adding the characters names in place of the pronouns would be tedious at best, and very draining on the reader. It would also break up the conversation timing in very awkward ways. Dialog tags are a wonderful tool, but they were never meant for a world where characters of the same sex discuss something in a rapid fashion.
For me, the decision was easy. When I only had two female characters talking in a hurried fashion; dialog tags could take a hike. When there would be a perceptible break or pause in the response dialog tags could stay.
The tone of the character becomes all important when I chose to leave the dialog tags out. Each character had a way of speaking, they had their own vocabulary to pull from. The college educated character would talk very differently from the self educated character that reads archaic books.
As the series has progressed, I found the inclusion of many more characters made this more difficult, but still the same issues of she said, she said dialog tags comes up regularly.
What are your feelings on dialog tags, are they useful for timing devices and the occasional introductory sentences of a conversation, or are they a rock upon which all good writing must conform to?