A dialogue tag identifies who is speaking. Used too often and they becomes irritating to the reader with an almost childish repetitive pattern of he said, she said. Too few tags and a reader may get confused and be forced to go back and check who is saying what. An alternative is to let the action indicate who is speaking as in this example:
“I grew up in this house.” Simon walked over to the window and looked out at the overgrown garden. “It’s all changed, of course.”
Elmore Leonard, the American novelist and screenwriter, has come up with 10 Rules of Writing.
Rule number 3 states:
Never use a verb other than “said” to carry dialogue. The line of dialogue belongs to the character; the verb is the writer sticking his nose in. But said is far less intrusive than grumbled, gasped, cautioned, lied.
I agree – except when said sounds silly. For example:
“Help! I’m on fire,” SAID the woman running out of the room.
If you aren’t keen on said, here are a list of alternatives. (To be used with caution.)