Dialogue Tags & Attributions

A dialogue tag says who is speaking, and perhaps also how something is spoken. Dialogue tags are easy (not really), they cause no trouble (another lie), and there is always an elegant way to show who is speaking (ha ha, we wish).

"That's just too much!" exclaimed Emma vehemently.

My theory -- no one says you have to trust me and anyway truth isn't really the issue here -- is this: The collective unconscious of all writers was seared by the Tom Swift series in the early 1900s. The following is from Tom Swift and His Airship (1910, Appleton). There was an explosion; now Andy, Sam, and Pete are arriving at the scene and talking with Tom. Notice the dialogue tags.

"How -- how many are killed?" panted Andy.
"Shall we go for doctors?" asked Sam.
"Can we see the place?" blurted out Pete, and he had to sit down on the grass, he was so winded.
"Killed? Doctors?" repeated Tom, clearly much puzzled. "What are you fellows driving at, anyhow?"
"Wasn't there a lot of people killed in the explosion we heard?" demanded Andy in eager tones.
"Not a one," replied Tom.
"There was an explosion!" exclaimed Pete. "We heard it, and you can't fool us!"
"And we saw the smoke," added Snedecker.
"Yes, there was a small explosion," admitted Tom, with a smile, "but no one was killed; or even hurt. We don't have such things happen in our shops."
"Nobody killed?" repeated Andy questioningly, and the disappointment was evident in his tones.
"Nobody hurt?" added Sam, his crony, and he, too, showed his chagrin.
"All our run for nothing," continued Pete, another crony, in disgust.

That sounds silly; it's just too much. Using dialogue tags like this is universally agreed to be bad writing, so don't write this way unless you're doing satire. (To be fair, possibly this is a good strategy when writing to young boys; I don't know.)

Writers do occasionally sound like Tom Swift. Once probably doesn't matter, but my brain is seared, so even once can bother me. From a good book:

"Damned if they do, damned if they don't," said Molly perceptively.

And Tom Clancy comes close:

"You're a very confident young man, Major," Peter said professorially. (The Cardinal of the Kremlin, page 159)

Assuming you want to avoid writing like Tom Swift, the million-dollar question is: Why is this style annoying? What should you be avoiding?

"People decided the problem was informative tags," Emma said.

Many people have decided that dialogue tags shouldn't be informative. Basically this reduces down to using just said for your dialogue tag: he said, she said, James said, or whatever. That conveys no information other than who is speaking. The Tom Swift books use just said as a dialogue tag, but not very often.

(The word asked is usually used in place of said when a question is being asked. A few other tags are minimally informative, like explained. Anything else is informative.)

Some authors, such as John Green, follow this advice pretty closely. In an emotional scene between Grace and Augustus (in The Fault in our Stars), this is the use of dialogue tags. (The dash means there was no dialogue tag.)

[--, I said, --, he flashed his crooked smile then said, I said, he said, his voice calm, I said, he said, he said, --]

So Green uses just said a lot. The Fault in Our Stars receives my vote for the best book ever, so using said must be okay (Emma concedes grudgingly).

However, the advice to use only said seems to me to be an over-reaction to Tom Swift. (Or, if it has nothing to do with Tom Swift, it's still not good advice.) There are three or four problems with using said. To mention one right now, it's deadening -- it has no emotion, it has no anything. It's not supposed to have anything -- that's the point of using it -- but it becomes dangerous because of that.

"Come over," he said.
"Hey," he said, "you're a nice surprise."
"Off," he said, "Take these off."
(From The Smart One, by Jennifer Close; this author uses said for almost all of her dialogue tags.)

In the above, I stripped out the narration and presented only the dialogue from a sex scene. It isn't sizzling for me. Obviously, the other parts that I have taken out could be sizzling, but this dialogue wasn't; the point is the difficulty being exciting with said.

You can try to show emotion by your word choice within the dialogue. That's good. That's even great! But you also want to put emotion in how the words are said. So that means either punctuation within the dialogue, or a more interesting dialogue tag.

John Green seems (to me) excellent at portraying emotions within the dialogue. So he can get by with a lot of saids. Even so, in the midst of the drama of their lives, the characters in The Fault in Our Stars come out as calm and even philosophical. Perhaps the use of said contributes to that. It was a good effect for his book, not so good for other characters. Or a sex scene.

Let's reconsider this example:

1. "God, what did you do now?" Dad asked. "What the hell did you do now?"

To me, this needs either italics and all-caps in the dialogue, or a more informative dialogue tag. Probably even both:

2. "God, what did you do NOW?" Dad screamed. "What the HELL DID YOU DO NOW?"

"Maybe it's the Randomness Problem," Emma suggested insouciantly.

As already discussed, one of the basic rules of writing should be to use the right word. If you need a fancy word, use it, but if a simple word is good enough, just use the simple word. Do NOT randomly turn simple words into fancy words in hopes of having better writing.

To me, Tom Swift puts a random word into the dialogue tag just to create something exciting, but without much care about what it really is. That's my answer to why people don't like the Tom Swift style.

But if that answer is correct . . . people had the wrong reaction to Tom Swift. And then there's nothing particularly magical about said, it's just a simple word that can do a simple job. In fact, it's perfect for those unemotional sentences that are obviously unemotional.

"Wasn't there a lot of people killed in the explosion we heard?" demanded Andy in eager tones.

It's important to the story that Andy is eager, but I have no idea why 'demanded' is in this – I don't hear any demand. If Andy is eager, the pacing of the words would be affected, not just the tones.

Going the other way, that means when another word can do a better job, you should not be using said. Even John Green used 'mumbled'. Or consider Stephen King. My guess is that he does not write an informative dialogue tag unless he needs it. But he writes informative dialogue tags. This is all of the dialogue from the female in a two-person conversation (Misery, 1989):

"I just hope this--" She stopped, the next word pulled back inside her as she sucked in breath.

"Paul?" Cautiously. "What are you doing?"

"Paul, no!" she screamed. Her voice was full of agony and understanding.

"OH GOD NO!" Annie shrieked.


"NOT MISERY!" she wailed.

When King uses an informative dialogue tag, he's advancing the story -- he knows what emotion he wants to portray, and he uses dialogue tags to help tell the reader how the character is speaking.

Here's another example of King using informative dialogue tags

"Billy!" the voice was yelling.

"What the Christ?" he said thickly.

"Who is it?" Chris whispered.

"Jackie Talbot," he said absently, then raised his voice. "What?"

"Chamberlain's burning up," he said.

(Carrie, 1979, p. 175).

Some claim that the said dialogue tag is invisible," Emma.

It's not invisible. If it was, it wouldn't be able to do its job.

"Well, yes," they would say, "but the reader quickly reads over it and it does not cause a problem." Yes, the said dialogue tag can be read more quickly than any other dialogue tag, because it is short and simple and highly expected. But . . .

Modern writers have a number of ways of avoiding dialogue tags. They use these. They use them as much as they can. Why? They would not not avoid the said dialogue tag if it was no problem -- they use these methods precisely because it is a problem.

So, do not assume the said dialogue tag is harmless. No good writer does that.

Emma raised her hand. "What are the ways of avoiding dialogue tags?"

When there is a change in speakers, a new paragraph is started. So, in a two-person conversation, assuming it clear who is speaking, no dialogue tag is needed for a change in speakers.

John said, "I went to the store." John and Mary looked at each other. "I'll cook dinner."

John should be still speaking because it's the same paragraph.

John and Mary sat down. John said, "I went to the store."

"I'll cook dinner."

Now it should be Mary speaking.

The Tom Swift example was a four-person conversation, so this technique couldn't be used.

When there is more than one person in the scene, but two people are talking back and forth, the author will often leave out the dialogue tag, letting the reader assume the new speaker is the other person talking. That's reasonable, but it also seems to be one of the most common ways to create confusion about who is speaking.

For example, in The Royal We (Cocks & Morgan), the scene contains Nick, Bex, and Clive, with Nick and Clive taking turns talking. In the pivotal moment, Bex enters the conversation on Nick's side. But there is no dialogue tag to indicate this, and in one of the minor tragedies of my reading experience, I thought Clive was talking. There was confusion in my head, then I ran into impossibilities a few sentences later; I could stop and slowly figure things out, but the moment was ruined. And it was a great moment.

In The Rooster Bar, Grisham takes the conversation rule to it's extreme. If Mark talks, Ted talks, Zola talks, and then there is unattributed dialogue, it's belongs to Ted, as if Ted and Zola are having a two-person conversation. (And Grisham is not perfectly consistent on this.) It's a reasonable rule, but I think tough on a reader to pick up on and follow. Mark and Ted ended up being interchangeable characters to me, possibly because I often didn't know which of the characters was talking.

The changing-paragraphs rule is used reiteratively.

John told Mary, "I'll fix dinner."

"We should have a dessert too"

"Ice cream is fine."

The last line is John. In theory, you can use this rule to go forever without needing any dialogue tags in a two-person conversation. In reality, it doesn't work that way -- readers somehow lose track and then get lost.

A second method is to use what I call an implicit dialogue tag.

John and Mary sat down. John cleared his throat. "We have to talk."

The preceding sentence talked about John, so the dialogue is by John.

The implicit dialogue tag can follow the dialogue.

"I've had a hard day." John sat down.

Tom Swift could have used implicit dialogue tags. For example:

His crony Sam was chagrined. "Nobody hurt?"

Pete, another crony, was disgusted. "All our run for nothing."

Unfortunately, these two rules can conflict.

John said, "That's a nice sunset." Mary thought about this in her mind. Did she really want to talk about sunsets? "It's nice to just sit here."

Some people see that last line as being spoken by Mary, with the preceding description of her thoughts being an implicit dialogue tag. But some see it as being spoken by John, because the paragraph did not change. (And if you're sure it's John, or Mary, you're typical -- most people think that their way of seeing it is how everyone sees it.)

The modern style, I think, is to break things into paragraphs. Which is to say, even talking about the other person leads to a new paragraph.

John said, "That's a nice sunset."

Mary thought about this in her mind. Did she really want to talk about sunsets right now? "It's nice to sit here."

John said, "That's a nice sunset."

Mary thought about this in her mind. Did she really want to talk about sunsets?

John continued, "It's nice to sit here."

This keeps everything straight, and keeps the paragraphs tight in meaning.

Third. If a name appears in the dialogue, showing who is being spoken to, that's enough to show who is talking (in a two-person conversation).

Tom and Mary were watching the sunset. “This is beautiful, Mary.”

Tom is talking. And the use of her name is unnatural. It is universally agreed that this should not be used too often (whatever "too often" is), because people do not use names that often.

Fourth. You can also hope the reader guesses correctly because of other excellent cues. Content often shows who is speaking. Or a speaker might have a distinctive voice.

In the Tom Swift book, the dialogue tag perhaps could have been left off here, thinking that the reader would follow that it has to be Tom.

"Killed? Doctors? What are you fellows driving at, anyhow?"

Emma and John were discussing writing. "Knowing who is speaking can be a real problem."

Two detectives walk up to to an apartment to get in.

"What do you say we go wake the people downstairs and ask them for a key?"

Behind Sam's back, Ellen grinned with mischief.

The dialogue could be either Sam or Ellen. The following paragraph was about Ellen, suggesting that the dialogue is from Sam -- there was no need to change paragraphs if it was Ellen talking. In fact, if there was no change in paragraph, the second sentence could have been an implicit dialogue tag that Ellen was talking.

So I read it as Sam talking. I was a little confused, but I read on, not realizing I had made a mistake. In fact, Ellen was talking, and I discovered my error only when I reread the section for another reason. (And then everything made more sense.)

A blatant confusion: His mom talks, he talks, his mom talks, he talks, and then we read:

Where are you guys going?” (Some Kind of Normal, Stone, page 31)

It should be his mom, by the rule that speakers alternate, and that's something she would very plausibly say. But instead it's his sister, who, as we learn in the next paragraph, has just walked into the room.

Obviously, there is a writing problem if I, the reader, become confused. But as far as I know, it's a common problem. Stephen King has confused me, and I have stopped keeping track of every time I have been misled by dialogue tags -- it's too common. And knowing who is talking shouldn't require some tremendous talent, it should be an ordinary skill that anyone can learn.

"My God, can we have some sort of summary?" you might ask.

"I suppose," Emma answered.

The modern-traditional style seems to be this. First, an informative dialogue tag is used when it's needed.

...he said wistfully. (Tom Clancy, The Cardinal in the Kremlin)

Otherwise, a variety of attempts are made to avoid the dialogue tag. Then, if all else fails, said is used. (Or some uninformative dialogue tag)

"What about before Tom Swift?" Emma asked with interest.

Anne of Green Gables is an great book, and the chapter where Matthew meets Anne and drives her to Green Gables is excellent. The dialogue tags?

From Anne: [she said in a peculiarly clear, sweet voice; the child responded cheerfully; she asked; --; --; --; --; --; she said resignedly; --; --; --; she whispered; --; --; --; --; --; with a long indrawing of breath; --; she interrupted breathlessly; she said, pointing; --; she whispered.]

From Matthew: [he said shyly; said Matthew; said Matthew; so he said shyly as usual; said Matthew; --; he said; said Matthew, who was getting a little dizzy; confessed Matthew disingenuously; --; Matthew ventured at last; said Matthew after a few moments of profound reflection; --; said Matthew; --; --; --; --; Matthew said; --]

This was written before the Tom Swift Great Scarring. To me, it seems like a natural, elegant use of dialogue tags -- she had no fear of informative dialogue tags, and she used them occasionally.

"Avoiding just said? Authors do that?"

Some authors write as if they really do not like the just said dialogue tag. For example, these are the dialogue tags from a 2013 book, The First Affair, starting from page 90. I am leaving out the dialogue without any tags. [I asked again; Mom said too forcefully; Erica said with annoyance; I said defensively; she said in a way that made me embarrassed for the word choice; she said it as if I'd tried to throw her a scorpion; I asked her, my voice thickening; I asked; She asked; I asked; he said softly; I leveled at him; she said stiffly; he instructed]. The next chapter finally begins with a simple 'he said'.

What's going on here? First, emotions are important, and the author used informative tags to show them. Second, if an informative tag wasn't needed, the author apparently went out of her way to eliminate any use of tag. That didn't always succeed, but it came close.

They are not alone. Here are dialogue tags starting at Chapter 8 of Twilight. I wrote down tags until I got to the first simple use of said. (Again I have left out the unattributed dialogue.)

[Jessica asked dubiously, Jessica demanded, I answered honestly, she reminded me, Angela amended quietly, I gasped, Jessica informed me, Angela murmured, Jessica giggled, Jess snickered, I began hesitantly, she mused, I encouraged, she told me quietly, one of them called, I mumbled, one of them called after me again, a voice called loudly, I warned, he called, a furious voice commanded, he commanded, I asked, he said]

So she had 23 dialogue tags before using a said. Conclusion: Stephanie Meyer does not like to use the word said in her dialogue tags.

One more. Starting at page 200 (a random location) in North of Beautiful, by Justina Chen Headley, 2009: [I told him; he said, his voice gruff; she cried; he said; I asked; I said; Jacob assured me; Jacob asked; I hedged; I confessed; asked Jacob; replying defensively; too busy telling Mom; Norah was confiding to Mom; and whisper; I told her; Norah murmured to me; Mom asked; I said more confidently than I felt].

So these writers are not defaulting to the simple said. Instead, they seem to be avoiding it.

The book Beautiful Creatures takes this a step further and almost always avoids any dialogue tags. However, it also smashed the record for the most times I was lost as to who was speaking. So, not recommended.

I don't like said either. To avoid it, I will add a short, implicit tag. I don't know if this is an actual example, but it will serve:

They all laugh. Brian points at me. "You."

You might see this and think an explicit dialogue tag wasn't needed because the comment about Brian pointing happens to be there. But in fact the comment about Brian was added second, to avoid the dialogue tag. Brian's pointing doesn't add a lot to the story, but I prefer it to adding a dialogue tag.

Emma asked seriously, “Where should I put the dialogue tag?”

The dialogue tag tells the reader who's speaking. You knew that. It's used only when the author thinks readers need guidance – a reader might guess wrong about who is speaking or have to think too hard to realize who's speaking. So it's presumably doing important work, or else it wouldn't be there.

So why doesn't the dialogue tag come first?

"Is it inappropriate if I say that you were really --"

Suddenly Nick's hand are in my hair, and he is kissing me firmly, like an exorcism.

"--hot just now," I say, when he pulls away.

(The Royal We, Cocks & Morgan))

There is no way to know, at first, who is talking – the reader learns two paragraphs later. Thanks, dialogue tag, but too late for you.

Readers have a difficult task: assembling a story about people in a world doing things, using only words presented sequentially on a page. The reader cannot assemble any story from that first line of that passage, because the reader doesn't know who's talking.

So, following a long paragraph of dialogue with a dialogue tag, to finally tell the reader who's speaking, is simply wrong. Authors can intuit this, and they don't write it.

This is all very interesting, but perhaps a little academic under the circumstances.” There was an icy sharpness in Joanna's voice the reflected the anger she suddenly felt toward both of them. (Superstition, Ambrose, page 187)

A long sentence with a dialogue delayed to the end is also probably wrong, for the same reason, though only in the walking-in-sand way – the problem might not be obvious, or even consciously noticeable, but logically there should be some difficulty. The above is a third person entering what was for a page a two-person conversation; the information about how she was speaking was delayed.

And authors will work to avoid that. For example:

"There will come a time," I said, "when all of us are dead." (The Fault in Our Stars, John Green, page 12).

Putting the dialogue tag in the middle of a sentence is perfectly acceptable, and it's used when the sentence is too long. (In this example, the author probably also wanted the pause.) Perhaps:

This is all very interesting.” There was an icy sharpness in Joanna's voice the reflected the anger she suddenly felt toward both of them. “But perhaps it's a little academic under the circumstances.”

What about delaying the dialogue tag until the end of a short phrase?

"I'll keep him away from you,” Dorothy said.

A reader presumably reads to the end of a phrase and then assembles meaning. Or perhaps the reader tries to assemble meaning as each word is read, but that reader still stops at the end of the phrase to assemble it. So that dialogue tag after a short phrase presumably arrives in a timely fashion for assembling meaning.

But what about the reading experience? When the dialogue tag comes last, the dialogue itself is read as empty, not spoken by anyone. (Unless the reader guesses right, but the dialogue tag wouldn't be needed if the readers were going to always guess right.) When the reader gets to the end and finds out it's Dorothy, the reader does not then reread that sentence in Dorothy's voice.

So I almost always put my dialogue tags first. I actually wrote

2. Dorothy said, "I'll keep him away from you."

This issue jumps to a higher level of seriousness when the dialogue tag tells the reader how the character was speaking:

Where is she? Where is she?” Birdwine muttered to himself...(The Opposite of Everyone, Jackson, page 110)

I think you better go,” he said calm and deadly serious. (page 44)

The problem is the same. If you, as author, want your reader to read the dialogue in a particular voice, or at least imagine or know that voice while reading, putting the dialogue tag last doesn't work.

And, again, I put my dialogue tags first:

I say loudly, "If you have no descendants, you may help guide Soolan, the girl you befriended."

Arthur says, in his voice that could charm an angel and with the assurance that he has talked often with God, "Pearl, God is always your friend. You can feel his friendship in your heart." (The Scarlet Letter, Sohan)

The delayed dialogue tag works just fine if the author just wants the reader to know how the words were spoken. That might be happening here:

So he is looking for his birth mother.”

And it's Kai,” I said, more statement than question. (The Opposite of Everyone, Jackson, page 56)

Even for the above, I want to know how that was said before reading it, so I can feel like I'm in the story as it's happening. But the important thing was the information – that the character is fairly certain about the answer.

And in that example, delaying the dialogue tag allowed the two pieces of dialogue to be placed one after another. So that's one reason for delaying a dialogue tag – to juxtapose one piece of dialogue with it's immediate reaction. That can be good writing.

When people talk to each other in normal conversation, they put the speaker attribution first. This is normal conversation:

Hi Emma. Why are you smiling?”

John told me he liked my haircut.”

This is not normal:

Hi Emma. Why are you smiling?”

"He liked my haircut, John said."

Nobody talks that second way; it would take effort and planning to put the speaker attribution anywhere other than first.

Authors know this: Within dialogue, the speaker attribution comes first.

"In a letter to his wife, he told her he never wanted to sell the farm. He said, 'I wish the land to... (Jeffrey Deaver, Twelfth Card):

Okay, so I went into clinic this morning and I was telling my surgeon that I'd rather be deaf than blind. And he said, 'It doesn't work that way,' and I was, like, "Yeah, I realize it doesn't work that way...' and he said, 'Well, the good news is..." (The Fault in Our Stars, John Green, page 15)

Interestingly, consider the placement of dialogue tags in jokes.

A man walked into a bar and asked, "If my gorilla comes here tomorrow night, where can he sit?" The bartender answered, "Wherever he wants."

If the dialogue tags are delayed, the same joke sounds written:

A man walked into a bar. "If my gorilla comes here tomorrow night, where can he sit?" the man asked. "Your gorilla," the bartender answered, "can sit wherever he wants."

The standard advice to writers apparently is to NOT put dialogue tag first. The reasoning is this: Putting dialogue tags first makes them more obvious. Again, everyone agrees that they aren't good, that's why they should be avoided as much as possible. So making a dialogue less intrusive is good.

So, putting a dialogue tag first sounds amateurish. And delaying the dialogue tag sounds like skilled, mature writing. That's another reason to delay them. So you as author look better.

I don't find that argument convincing, but it's your book and you have to make the choice you think is best. In Princess Diaries, Meg Cabot is portraying a 15-year-old writing in her diary. Cabot almost always puts the dialogue tag first. This probably makes Meg Cabot look amateurish to the casual reader. But really it's brilliant, because that's exactly how a fifteen year old would write in a diary.

Emma asked, “What if I want my dialogue tag in front?”

Simmons in general did not put his dialogue tags first, but here he did:

I said, "Would you two mind speaking in goddamned English?" (The Abominable, Dan Simmons, p. 497)

So, if you occasionally put your dialogue tag first, I'm not sure any reader will notice.

She spoke quietly to Reck and Ruin, in a voice of calm intention. “If you move from your places you'll be dead before you take a step.” (Wyrms, Card, page 173 paperback)

In Lullaby. Palahniuk juxtaposes gruesome content with a simple style As part of this simple style, the dialogue tags are usually in front. As noted, that's the natural place for them to be. Some examples:

She takes another sip of coffee and says, "What do you call this? Swiss Army mocha? Coffee is supposed to taste like coffee."

Mona comes to the doorway with her arms folded across her front and says, "What?"

And Helen says, "I need you to swing by" -- she shuffles some...

So an author can put dialogue tags first. But, as always for dialogue tags, there are multiple solutions. As far as I know, an implicit dialogue tag is never intrusive, even when it appears first.

I think back. "I said five words to him." (EG)

He looks anxious. "There's a lecture I'm supposed to give you when you become interested in guys." (EG)

And the implicit dialogue tag is free. “He said” is always two empty words. Meanwhile, implicit dialogue tags should be informative; they often can make your story better.

And there can be a thin line between the very intrusive dialogue tag and the presumably-no-problem implicit dialog tag.

Tom looked angry. “Explain to me again why you did that.”

Tom said angrily, “Explain to me again why you did that.”

To say there's a big difference between those two seems to ignore the obvious – there isn't.

Emma: "There's also Name/Colon."

Me: "I refuse to attend Support Group."

Mom: "One of the symptoms of depression is disinterest in activities."

Me: "Please just let me watch America's Next Top Model. It's an activity."

Mom: "Television is a passivity."

Me: "Ugh Mom, please."

This is what I call the name/colon format for dialogue attribution. The above is from John Green's The Fault in Our Stars, and it continues like this for seven more turns until the conversation is over.

Though not common in fiction books, the name/colon format is common outside of fiction. If the closed captions on TV has speaker attributions, it will probably be Name/Colon. And as far as I know, it will never be dialogue tags – they would be too clunky.

Name/Colon is frequently used in fiction, though not for dialogue. Instead it is used for email, text exchange, etc. Grisham uses it for a transcript (in The Racketeer); OCD Love Story uses it for the MC writing in her diary.

Wintergirls is like The Fault in Our Stars – it has a few conversations in Name/Colon format. Some books using this format all or almost all of the time, such as Cabot's Party Princess.

Laurie Halse Anderson, one of the PaG wizards who helped inspire this book, has an elegant use of name/colon. In Speak, the main character often does not speak at all, even to answer a question. How should Anderson portray silence? Yes, she could have written.

I don't answer.

But that sounds calm; it sounds like a strategy. I think the main character, who was traumatized, becomes filled with fear and cannot speak even to narrate. Anderson wrote:


There are other ways of doing speaker attributions in writing. Movie script format:


Mother, Father. What should you do if you see a dead body?

That isn't name/colon. But it is just a name, and it's in front. Simmons constructed his own format:

The farmer was shouting something.

-- Would y'all folks like something to drink?

The dialogue attributions are usually implicit, but here's an explicit one from that same book:

As if embarrassed by saying so much, Sitting Bull sneezes and says --

--Hecetu. Mitakuye oyasin.

If the standard way of attributing speech (delayed dialogue tags) worked so well, Simmons wouldn't be trying to invent a new way. And note that – as for the other variations -- the speaker attribution and description of voice comes first in his style.

The Order of Thoughts (First Person Present)

The author can have a focal character; having that, the author can try to write the narration to correspond chronologically with the focal character's thoughts. First Person Present Tense promises this, but an author can do this in any point of view.

People usually intend to speak, so putting the dialogue tag first makes sense:

I say to my friends, "Excuse me.”

But usually emotions leak out, which is to say, the character often is not intentionally showing an emotion. Then the character doesn't realize the emotion in a voice until after the character has spoken. (Or maybe not at all.) That poses a serious problem for giving the emotion first.

"Fine. I'll do it." That sounded a lot more disgusted than I wanted.

"I have to find someone who wants to be your mascot?" My voice is still whining.

I said, "Would you two mind speaking in goddamned English?" Perhaps it came out a little sharper than I'd meant it to. (The Abominable, Dan Simmons, p. 497)

And sometimes characters do intend to say something with a particular voice. She accidentally responds too emotionally, then tried to recover.

Is your boyfriend the quarterback?"

"NO!" Oops. I say calmly, "Of course not.

So the placement of the dialogue tag becomes as issue if the goal is to mimic the thoughts of a focal character.

"What about imperfect dialogue tags?" Emma wondered.

When the dialogue tells you how something was spoken -- does it really tell you how it was spoken? Loudly does.

I say loudly, "If you have no descendants, you may help guide Soolan, the girl you befriended."

What about angrily?

Anna says angrily, "Those are my earrings."

It is not completely obvious what it means for someone to speak angrily, but basically readers know.

"Those are my earrings,"Anna says sourly.

I think that crosses a line. Is sourly a way of speaking? Possibly, but I don't really know what it is. So sourly is pretending to describe how she spoke, but really it just describes her attitude.

I called that an adverb cheat: using an adverb to supposedly modify a verb when it actually doesn't. But authors do it all of the time. And, if the dialogue tag is at the end, the intent was never that we actually read Anna as saying it that way, the point was just that she was being sour.

So it's hard to get hissy about authors pretending to describe how something was spoken but not really doing that, especially when the dialogue tag comes last.

"Not if I don't light them," Denal said sourly. (Excavation, James Rolling, page 126)

"No holes," Pokryshkin noted sourly. (The Cardinal of the Kremlin, Clancy, page 112)

And even though I like my dialogue tags first:

"Okay," I say profoundly.

I don't think profoundly is a way of speaking. (Or, to be more precise, it does give clues about the voice, but they aren't really good clues and describing voice wasn't really the purpose.) The reader won't notice that problem, because the dialogue tag comes too late to use it as guidance for how it was spoken.

So delaying the dialogue tag can be a technique for de-emphasizing its use in guiding the voice of the speech.

"That was generous of her," I say accusingly.

The reader does not have to figure out in advance how to speak in an accusing tone of voice. If there is one.