"How're ya doin'?" I inquired.
"Oh, I'm fine." she responded.
"I... thought I might ask you a question." I ventured.
"Go ahead," she encouraged.
"Well... you know that patch of land out back of the old house? I was wondering if I could buy it off your papa, and then fix it up and maybe build a little cabin there? Do you think he might sell?" I inquired.
"That old bit of land? That's covered in junk!" she shouted.
"I know, but I thought I could maybe sell it and make a bit of money." I retorted.
Now what is wrong with that? I don't think that there's anything wrong with it, but the speaker tags (I inquired, she responded, I ventured, she encouraged, etc.) are rather flowery and fancy. There is nothing wrong with this, but how about the following dialogue?
"How're ya doin'?" I asked.
"Oh, I'm fine," she replied.
"I... thought I might ask you a question," I said.
"Go ahead," she said.
"Well... you know that patch of land out back of the old house? I was wondering if I could buy it off your papa, and then fix it up and maybe build a little cabin there? Do you think he might sell?" I asked.
"That old bit of land? That's covered in junk!" she replied.
"I know, but I thought I could maybe sell it and make a bit of money," I said.
In the first example, what were you looking at? The speaker tags, or the dialogue itself? In the second example, though, were you looking at the dialogue? The speaker tags were invisible–said, replied, and asked. Using those for your writing means that readers can focus on the dialogue–as long as that is well-written.
Now, I know that you may have heard "Don't use 'said', use more powerful verbs." I think that this may be one exception to the rule of using strong verbs. Now, don't take me wrong here. I'm all for strong verbs. But I think that dialogue is one place where what the characters said is what the readers care about, more than how they said it. Good dialogue (and characterization) should show the reader how they said it, just by what they said.
'Said', 'Asked', and 'Replied' probably cover just about every piece of dialogue in most projects. But what about pieces of dialogue where none of those three words seem to fit? Can you use other words then?
Absolutely. A quote from somewhere–I have no idea where: "There are no rules in writing, there are only guidelines." (If any does know where it comes from, please say!) Other words can absolutely be used as speaker tags, as long as they aren't used too much. After telling your reader twenty times that your character 'demanded' something, how are you going to convey when he really demands something. If you've been using 'said' all the way through, that one 'demand' is going to have a real punch.
In my own writing - I did Command-Find to examine what speaker tags I've used, and these are some of my results:
Shouted: 24 (maybe a bit too many?)
Screamed: 5 (although three of them are literal screams, not speaker tags)
As you should be able to see, I try to keep with 'invisible' speaker tags as much as possible.
One final thing about speaker tags though–be careful to not use speaker tags which lead to facial gymnastics. He grinned–he grimaced–he scowled, for exaple. Try talking at the same time as doing one of those, and you'll see what I mean.
These are just my thoughts on the subject, and you may have totally different ideas. If you do, please leave a comment and say what you think–I'm open to hearing new ideas.