Dave Hardy commented on this blog the other day about dialogue tags, so I thought I might say a few things about them from my perspective.
As a reader, the most important thing to me is not to be confused about who is talking and when. Even if there are only two people in a scene, I'll get lost after half a page of dialogue without tags unless the speech of the two individuals is dramatically distinct. I know for myself (and I suspect it is true for most readers), the dialogue tags largely become invisible to me, especially if it is the ubiquitous "said." Thus, as a reader, I'd probably prefer the writer to err on the side of more tags rather than fewer.
As a writer, I actually tend to use dialogue tags for three purposes. The major purpose is to make sure the reader knows who is talking. However, dialogue tags can also slow the pace of a scene, which is just what you want in some situations. Tags can also change the, for want of a better term, "music" of a scene. I don't know why, but to me dialogue tags, particularly things like "I told him" or "he responded," add a bit of gravity to a scene when I read it out loud. This may just have to do with the slowing of the pace. It's clearly a "sound" effect for me, though.
Anyway, here's another slice of that story I posted a piece of yesterday, but this is almost solely dialogue. This is how I identified the speakers in this piece, although there are certainly other, perhaps better, ways of doing it.
Chalathar was waiting for us, leaning on a marble balustrade. Behind him loafed three rough looking characters.
“Been expecting you,” Chalathar said.
I arched an eyebrow.
“You are going up to see Kuurus, aren’t you?”
“We have to get through his guards first,” I said.
He nodded. “I know. I’ve brought some friends along for the fun.”
For a moment I studied his companions, hard-cases all. Two were men, the third a big Nokarran whose light gray fur was mottled with dark rosettes so that he resembled a snow leopard walking.
“Looks like you need a leash for ‘em,” I said.
The Nokarran smirked. Chalathar chuckled. “Then they couldn’t kill,” he replied.
Now it was my turn to nod. “Let’s make that happen, then,” I said, stalking past him up the steps.
Note: The last "said" certainly doesn't have to be there, but when I broke the sentence into two, giving me: "I stalked past him up the steps," it seemed more jarring and I thought it flowed better as one sentence with the "said" in there. Sometimes it's amazing how many little decisions we make each moment in writing.