Once upon a time, dialog tags were expected to do double duty. They served as a roadmap to keep readers on track. They also served to add some description to the scenes.
We wound up with: she whispered, he growled, Jane stuttered, Bob moaned, etc.
Today, we no longer expect, or want dialog tags to add description. The new rule is to use only said, thought, or asked as a dialog tag. I’d say this one has moved from a guideline to a rule. We’re supposed to get the point across with the dialog, and some actions.
There’s nothing technically wrong with this sentence. “You suck,” Bob yelled.
Keep in mind that correct doesn’t mean good. “You suck!” Comes across much better with no tag at all, provided we understand Bob is speaking. (You haters of the exclamation point can write about it in your own blogs.)
Said, thought, and asked have been described as invisible words. In a way, they’re almost punctuation in themselves. The new guideline is that invisible dialog tags are preferred.
This brings me to my main point. I really can’t stand what I call backwards dialog tags. “I like cheese,” said Martha. Martha and said have been reversed.
I did what everyone else does. I went looking for some grammar guru to back me up. Then I can say, “See, I told you so. Isn’t grammar guru smart?”
I didn’t find a grammar guru who is stern enough to put up a fight. The overwhelming consensus is that “said Martha” is correct. I’ll just add that correct does not mean good. They are saying this style is old fashioned, and archaic. This is moving into guideline territory in my mind.
Whenever I see a backwards dialog tag, it pulls me out of the story. This is bad, even for a second. I’m not everyone, and you have the right to disagree with me.
If we’re trying so hard to use invisible dialog tags, why draw attention to them?
“Oh my God, look you guys, it’s a dialog tag.”
“Wow, I thought those things are supposed to be invisible.”
“They are, but there it is anyway. Black Courier New all over the page.”
“Sure enough. What were we reading again?”
“I don’t remember. Turn back a page and try catching up.”
“Alright, but when we come to the backwards dialog tag, don’t look at it. Maybe it’ll go away.”
“Hey, Craig used the word archaic. Now I want cake.”
“Me too, let’s go out and get our cake. Get it?”
“Yeah, we can always pick up that book later…