Are speaker tags always necessary when multiple people are in the conversation?
I understand that if you’ve got two people speaking, you often don’t need speaker tags because it’s assumed that both people take it in turns unless otherwise specified. This keeps the conversation flowing
I often have three or four people in a conversation and adding a tag to every single line breaks up the rhythm and flow. As far as I can, I try to make dialogue specific to the speaker. However, sometimes what they say is too short to give it sufficient personality. I am also concerned that even if I give clues, doing so on consecutive speeches might leave the reader awkwardly trying match up who said what.
For example, four people looking at a moving blob in the distance:
‘Does it know we’re here?’
‘Well we know it’s there so I expect so.’
‘What sort of animal moves like that?’
‘A fae animal?’
‘I doubt it’s fae. It would use its invisible state. What it’s doing is most inefficient.’
‘Should we go back? I mean, what if it’s not friendly?’
‘I’m not going back through these accursed demon woods.’
‘Nothing’s friendly here, it would be advisable to get used to it. And the woods are neither cursed nor demonic, thank you.’
I suppose at the moment it’s too ‘screenplay’ - I guess I’m imagining four people peering at this thing, trying to work out what it is and what to do. I’ve tried adding tags and it’s terrible. It’s slightly better if I add action beats, but they slow the whole conversation down, which doesn’t work in context.
Perhaps the answer is that if it doesn’t matter who said what, the conversation could be summarised, but I’m reluctant to do that because I want to give a sense of their collective uncertainty.
If you have multiple people in a conversation, does it matter if it’s not clear exactly who said what? And if it does matter, how can I make the speaker obvious without the conversation grinding to a halt?