I keep talking about tagging, actually.
So I will do it some more.
Here are a couple of simple, basic guidelines in the tagging of dialog:
1) Make certain the reader knows who said every line of dialog. No confusion.
2) Don't forget there are lots of ways to tag dialog. Be adventurous.
3) You can almost always tag with 'he said' and you will be invisible
4) You can tag with the equivalent of 'he said' and you will be less invisible.
..... 'he muttered', 'he whispered', he 'remarked', 'he answered', 'he objected'.
5) In the choice between 'he said' and one of the saidisms,
you are about all the time better going with 'he said'
6) You can tag with an action
..... 'he began to put the fire out', 'he stabbed Guido', 'he activated the bomb', 'he put oil on the salad', 'he reconsidered'
Action tags are good.
Action that occurs close to the dialog tags it. The action has to be performed by the one speaking. It has to be in the same paragraph.
7) Tagging actions are separated from dialog by a period.
..... "Let him go." George cocked the pistol.
..... "You cut your hair." Maurice sneered. "It was a mistake."
8) Unless the action occurs inside the sentence.
..... "I'm a friend of rabbits," he said, eyes glittering, "generally."
..... "We have better things to do tonight" he murmured as he put down the gun, "than murder intruders."
(You can write this sort of sentence with em dashes instead of commas, but why would you want to?)
9) 'Said' and its brother saidisms are always separated from dialog by commas.
..... "No one does it better," Anna whispered.
..... "A bird in the bush is worth two in the hand," Maurice maintained.
..... Quoth the Raven, "Nevermore."
If you do not know whether something is a 'saidism' or an action, go sit and think about it for a while. Over there.
10) Do not double-tag. If an action or other method tags the dialog, don't add 'he said'. You will eliminate many 'he saids' from the manuscript by following this simple rule. Over a lifetime you will eliminate a small mountain of them.
..... NOT "You watch the door," he said loading the second musket.
..... BUT "You watch the door." He loaded the second musket.
11) Do not mistake actions performed by the mouth, tongue, lips and throat for saidism. One does not grin, laugh, mime, simper, chortle, frown, or sneer words.
Go ahead. Smile me a couple words.
The readers won't care about this but grammar purists all over the English-speaking world are grinding their teeth. Can't you hear them?
Can one 'grind out' words? Spit them out? Cough them out?
I'm still thinking about this.
Also, one does not hiss dialog containing no 's' or 'z'.
It's not, "Fee, Fi, Fo, Fum," he hissed.
12) Many lines of dialog are tagged by responsion. We know who spoke because they are taking turns. (Middlemarch does this for pages.)
Tweedledee said, "Your fault!"
"Not," Tweedledum snapped.
"You're the one who put Cicero in the pudding."
13) Many lines are tagged by 'voice'. The reader knows the speaker because no one else sounds like that.
14) Many lines are tagged by special knowledge, by location in the scene, by what the speaker perceives.
15) You can tag with Internal Monologue. This assigns the dialog to the POV character.
..... "Probably you want to point that gun at the lizard men." You idiot.
16) You can tag with Internals, which also assigns the dialog to the POV character.
..... "Probably you want to point that gun at the lizard men." George had always been an idiot.. "Not so much at the choir."
17) You can tag with Direct Address in a two-man conversation or where it tags the next line of dialog or responsion or where the Direct Address identifies the speaker. 'Not now, Papa' tags the daughter as the speaker.
Careful not to over use this. Real speak contains very little Direct Address.
We don't have to stay there.
There's a whole big universe of clever things to do with words when we jump off and let go.