Tag lines are those sometimes necessary but more often irritating bits of narrative that tell the reader which character is speaking, as in “Mary said….” Some writers will preface every sentence or paragraph with a tag line even if only two people are speaking and then, apparently to avoid monotony, vary the verb: said, responded, replied, yelled, shouted….
Instead of using a tag line, I prefer to use a brief bit of introductory narrative, such as “John smiled” and then write the dialogue. That identifies the speaker and also sets the tone of the dialogue.
I personally dislike tag lines at the end of the dialogue since that will often make me read the sentence again to reflect the tone. “What are you doing?” reads different if the tag line is “yelled” or “whispered” or “hissed.”
I heard a song on the radio the other day about a man winning a lady in a poker game (I listen to some interesting music.) Anyway, I wrote this story without tag lines but you should be able to figure out which character is speaking. At 99 words, this qualifies as flash fiction.
Sean plopped into a chair at the outdoor table in front of the coffee shop and cocked a questioning eyebrow at Bill.
“Won her in a poker game last night.”
“Wow. Must’a been high stakes. What was your hand?”
“Four jacks. It started out as five dollar pots and kind’a escalated.”
“How is she?”
“Really good. She won’t speak unless I ask her to. Just look at her, the way she sets so quietly and looks so regal.”
“She has a weird face. What’s her heritage?”
“Not sure. Looks like a mix of retriever and maybe collie. C’mer girl.”