Why explain dialogue?

(written by lawrence krubner, however indented passages are often quotes). You can contact lawrence at: lawrence@krubner.com, or follow me on Twitter.

From my friend Kat:

First, just an overall note about what irritates me in terms of some writers’ dialogue – it bothers me when writers write a scene with a certain tone and then also explain that tone through exposition. So, for example a character says something sarcastically and then the author explains that they said it sarcastically

I feel exactly the same way. Every one else who reads my novels gives me the opposite advice, and I thought perhaps I was alone in preferring plain dialogue. I’m glad to know I have at least one ally in you. You’ll note that in my emails, where I am free to write however I like, I never explain dialogue, I just write the spoken words. But some people hate this, they say “It reads like a screenplay!” And then I always wonder, “Uh, is that an insult, or a compliment?” My theory about this is that some of us have a natural affinity for dialogue, and even acting, so we like the plain dialogue that we can interpret on our own. But the professional editors I’ve worked with tell me this is a mistake.

You’ve given me the courage to go through and tear out most of the dialogue explanations. Never again will I write: “You are so intelligent, you idiot,” she said sarcastically, because she did not really mean it when she said he was intelligent, and that is why she also called him an idiot, because, really, he was not very intelligent, he was really fairly stupid, so what she said was actually an example of what is known as sarcasm, because she did not really mean what she said, and in some sense she meant the opposite of that.