Playpen

Welcome to the Playpen, our space for ferrety banter and whimsical snippets of things that aren't quite long enough for articles (although they might be) but that caught your eye anyway.

at 00:28 on 10-07-2011, Michal
don't know if that's 100% accurate, but about a million years at university was enough for me. :P [...]I think a great deal of academic discourse these days is unfortunately devoted to the principle that if it's as complex as possible, or preferably, more than is possible, it will confound and impress those who have trouble understanding it. Which is a shame because it means that a lot of good work gets lost in the wash.

Guy, I don't know what possessed you to try to disentangle that sentence, but applause is in order. Thanks for the Chomsky link--"Hey, even Chomsky doesn't quite understand Foucault!" There's actually a very good case to be made for Foucault's (mainly historical) work being misused by scholars in other disciplines.

I'm thinking of labeling Judith Butler's "A Bad Writer Bites back" as "The Butlerian Jihad" (after all, the responses it spawned were a great deal more entertaining than the Brian Herbert/Kevin J. Anderson book of the same name).
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at 23:41 on 09-07-2011, Tamara
I think that the diversity of readership is an important thing to factor in, as well. After all, if you had a Russian person, an English person and a Chinese person all reading an English text (provided all three of them are familiar with the language), they are all going to interpret the text in different ways


I find that an odd notion. Honestly, I know I put a considerable amount of effort in stripping away un-English influences when i'm reading an English text (well, alright, I don't as its subconscious, but I definitely notice when I mess up. Found out what an antimacasser is yesterday. Huh. I thought it was some kind of...pedestal.) Obviously, wider cultural perceptions and so on will differ and thats fine, but things that are simply correct language comprehension? If three people who are otherwise identical simply read a sentence differently then they just don't actually know English in a similar way.
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at 21:09 on 09-07-2011, Vermisvere
Well, just came back from seeing Super 8...not exactly impressed, especially towards the end when J.J. Abrams began hoarding one too many movie cliches into the plot by the bucketload, but I'll give the guy some credit on the action parts, seeing as
the scene with the alien attacking the bus with the military dudes and the kid protagonists towards the end
was pretty well done in my opinion. Although maybe I'm being too harsh on the guy seeing as I didn't particularly like his version of Star Trek either.

And to add to discussion below...

I think that the diversity of readership is an important thing to factor in, as well. After all, if you had a Russian person, an English person and a Chinese person all reading an English text (provided all three of them are familiar with the language), they are all going to interpret the text in different ways, whether it be a sentence describing Harry whacking tables as he makes an angry statement about his parents' deaths or one about a panting guard bursting through the doors as he attempts to deliver a message to the Queen. Something that appears odd to one person may be perfectly acceptable to another.
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at 10:40 on 09-07-2011, Shimmin

Cue more literate people pointing out how wrong I am?

Sorry, I meant to add a YMMV bit at the end of my argument, but I was afraid it would come off sounding dismissive. But I do think this is a case where what works for some people in writing doesn't work for others.

Sorry, I didn't notice at the time, but that seems a bit hostile now and not especially clear. What I meant was, I don't really know much about literature or creative writing theory or reading psychology, and I wondered if people who do would have interesting arguments to present on why the issue isn't just one of literary fashion.

I take your point about reading highlighting awkwardness. That being said, certain types of writing suffer a lot if you rely too much on it, either because they have long passages that read fine but are hard to say without breathing, or because they seem unnaturally curt. Either of those tends to give certain feelings to a text in a way that I think doesn't correspond especially well to speech. Some of Lovecraft's writing beautifully conveys an archaic and oppressive feel: Wretched is he who looks back upon lone hours in vast and dismal chambers with brown hangings and maddening rows of antique books, or upon awed watches in twilight groves of grotesque, gigantic, and vine-encumbered trees that silently wave twisted branches far aloft. It's a bit painful to read out, but in text it works for me.

It's possible that reading stuff in other languages has given me an unusual take on things, though.
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at 22:46 on 08-07-2011, Gamer_2k4
@Melissa G:
In my experience, whenever a story is read aloud, all of the "he said" bits tend to get mumbled, said in a monotonous way, or dropped entirely. I just feel they tend to interrupt the story and don't give much information.

The tags are dropped because your tone and pacing implies them. They exist in written works SOLELY because there is no actual voice presenting the dialogue. Of course if you're reading something aloud, you can drop the tags.

@Shimmin:
A figure burst through the doors of the hall and dropped to one knee, panting. "Urgent message for the Queen!"
A figure burst through the doors of the hall and dropped on one knee. "Urgent message for the Queen!" panted the guardsman.


To me, the first sentence has slightly less urgency. It's not much, but it sounds like the guard stops, pants, then makes his exclamation. In the second sentence, it feels like the guard doesn't even take the time to catch his breath, and he literally pants between words. Again, it's not much, but it's often the little things that can make or break a scene.

@Robinson L:
A figure burst through the doors of the hall and dropped on one knee. "Urgent message for the Queen!" The guardsman panted.

Same issue as above. Here, the ordering of the words completely changes the scene. In this example, the guard runs in, says his piece in one go, and only then stops to catch his breath. Does it matter? Maybe not. Still, if the author has a particular scene in his head, he should choose his words to convey it that way. Notice how all three variations of this scene aren't exactly ambiguous, at least not in my mind. These aren't varying levels of efficiency and clarity with the actual details left to the reader's interpretation; they're three distinct scenes.

Maybe this is an unfair question, but I also wonder if there are many times when it would be important to clarify that a bit player was "panting" or saying something "angrily" without those things coming out more naturally through the rest of their actions over the course of the scene. I suspect not, though I'm open to being persuaded.

Of course it's important. It adds flavor to the scene. Who knows, maybe this guard is the Pheidippides of the story, dying as soon as he gives the warning. If so, he'll never get another chance to express his physical or emotional state. That one descriptor makes all the difference. And even if he stays alive, conversation and tone are dynamic. I could be angry at you for an entire conversation, but only raise my voice for one sentence. Descriptors matter. They keep a scene alive.

My problem with words like "panted" or "grunted" is that I'm not entirely sure it's capable to "pant" "Urgent message for the Queen!" I believe it's possible to pant or grunt while saying it, or just before/just after, but I don't think people's mouths can actually pant or grunt the words themselves.

There's a certain degree of extrapolation that's understood when terms like this are used. If I'm speaking "tightly," that doesn't mean the words themselves are tight. Rather, it implies that my body/throat are tightened, and the words sound mildly choked as a result. If someone "pants" a sentence, it's understood that he's panting while talking. It's just simpler and more efficient to say they panted the words.

@Daniel Hemmens:
Those quotes make me so sad, especially the last one. I wonder what something said "bustily" sounds like?
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at 22:19 on 08-07-2011, Melissa G.
I'm not entirely sure that people reading stuff aloud (although I don't know your context there) offer a strong argument for particular styles in writing.


The only reason I brought up the reading aloud bit was because I've been told that it's easier to notice when things are awkwardly phrased or not written well if you read something out loud than if you just read it silently to yourself. If the words are getting tangled in your mouth when you try to read aloud or you're not sure when the pauses or emphasis belong, it might be time to restructure the sentence.


Cue more literate people pointing out how wrong I am?


Sorry, I meant to add a YMMV bit at the end of my argument, but I was afraid it would come off sounding dismissive. But I do think this is a case where what works for some people in writing doesn't work for others.
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at 21:48 on 08-07-2011, Shimmin
@ Robinson:
Well, you could delete "panted the guardsman," treat the exclamation point as a full stop, and say "The guardsman panted" like so:

Absolutely, but I don't think it's qualitatively different (and I put "figure" partly because I wrote it in about five seconds, and partly because if someone bursts through the door you don't immediately know who they are, and largely because English writing practice arbitrarily frowns upon repeating the same word in close proximity).

The thing about bit parts is that there might not be any more of their actions in the scene, so if you want them to convey something you need to do it efficiently. Important? Well, possibly not, but an awful lot of the content of your average book isn't absolutely crucial if you look at it the right way. Almost all of it, in fact. Depends what you think is important to a book.

I suppose whether it's possible depends on your interpretation of "panting", but you try saying it on your out-breaths while gasping like you've just run a couple of miles. In terms of your "grunting" and "spitting" and so on, I know what you mean, but it's like anything else: whether or not it's technically possible to "grunt" a line of dialogue in the normal sense of "grunt", it's got a particular meaning in terms of dialogue that most people understand perfectly well. Along the same lines, I disagree with Dan because I have a pretty clear idea what's meant by someone "smiling" a line of dialogue (i.e. saying something while smiling and with a tone to match the implications of that particular type of smile).

@Melissa: Yes, absolutely, although grimacing is still fairly unusual as conversations go, and I'd argue that basic descriptive verbs cover associated facial expressions as well as tone and delivery.

Looking at these two:
A figure burst through the doors of the hall and dropped to one knee, panting. "Urgent message for the Queen!"
A figure burst through the doors of the hall and dropped on one knee. "Urgent message for the Queen!" panted the guardsman.

Sure, they say pretty much the same thing (very fractionally different, but hey); so I don't see any reason to find one innately superior to the other. They're just slightly different ways of describing things. I'm not entirely sure that people reading stuff aloud (although I don't know your context there) offer a strong argument for particular styles in writing. Just to clarify, I'm not on some kind of crusade under the banner of Not Saying Said or Rights for Adverbs or anything. I just don't think there's anything intrinsically wrong using the odd verb, or even an adverb now and then, to describe speech. I don't think that telling the reader things directly is intrinsically worse than talking around it. Too much of anything gets irritating, whether it's insistence on putting dialogue verbs in or insistence of avoiding them. I've certainly read books where it's hard to follow the dialogue because the author's terrified of tagging it with any name or description.

@everyone:
As Dan said, I don't think anyone's trying to argue that you mustn't use "grunted" or "he said, angrily" at all ever, but I'm really quite sceptical even of arguments that one literary construction is superior to another one. It's mostly fashions and stylistic choices from what I can see. Somewhat ironically, I think there is a danger of slipping into Anti-Said-Bookism down that route.

Cue more literate people pointing out how wrong I am?

Oh, and one last thing:
I mean part of the reason you can keep watching Shakespeare plays over and over again is that every performance, every interpretation, is different yet still valid.
But of course, you can read the exact same book or watch the exact same film over and over again, where every performance is exactly the same. Though you did say "part of" so I suppose that's covered.
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at 20:09 on 08-07-2011, Melissa G.
Your Harry example works fine, Melissa, but quite often people do just convey things in the way they speak, rather than by pummelling tables


Well, yes, that was a bit of a dramatic example, but that's why I included the other one, which was merely a facial expression. There are almost always physical clues and body language going on when people speak. And if the person is perfectly still, that in itself can be a hint toward their behavior. And it's also perfectly acceptable to preface that line like this:

Harry's voice was strangled. "He killed my parents!"

In that situation, you're still describing *how* he's saying it without trying to give him an adverb. I just find it more interesting to attribute a description to the character (whether it be a physical action, body language clue, or explanation of how they sound) rather than a tag, which says very little. Even in your example, if you want the audience to know that he's panting, you can just add that word onto the end of the previous sentence:

A figure burst through the doors of the hall and dropped to one knee, panting. "Urgent message for the Queen!"

It adds even less words, and I think slows down the story less so than having to stumble over a dialogue tag. In my experience, whenever a story is read aloud, all of the "he said" bits tend to get mumbled, said in a monotonous way, or dropped entirely. I just feel they tend to interrupt the story and don't give much information.
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at 20:02 on 08-07-2011, Robinson L
Ahh, Judith Butler. I have one friend who absolutely adores her. I find her arguments incredibly difficult to decipher, and I suspect sentences like that are partially to blame.

@Shimmin: I'm not averse to the occasional adverb in dialogue either, though when I go back over my work in editing, I usually find I'm able to cut most of them without losing anything important, and I'm never sure whether the ones I leave are really necessary, or my own selfish desire as an author to impose an interpretation on the text.

it's not a million miles apart, but the first one implies things about the guardsman's condition that just aren't there in "said", and does it by changing a single word rather than inserting a paragraph of description that might slow down the story.

Well, you could delete "panted the guardsman," treat the exclamation point as a full stop, and say "The guardsman panted" like so:

A figure burst through the doors of the hall and dropped on one knee. "Urgent message for the Queen!" The guardsman panted.

Okay, that sets up a confusion as to whether this is the same person, so you might want to say "A guardsman burst through ..." (why be so nonspecific as to say "figure" in the first place?) and tweak the third sentence if you want to avoid repeating the word "guardsman."

Maybe this is an unfair question, but I also wonder if there are many times when it would be important to clarify that a bit player was "panting" or saying something "angrily" without those things coming out more naturally through the rest of their actions over the course of the scene. I suspect not, though I'm open to being persuaded.

My problem with words like "panted" or "grunted" is that I'm not entirely sure it's capable to "pant" "Urgent message for the Queen!" I believe it's possible to pant or grunt while saying it, or just before/just after, but I don't think people's mouths can actually pant or grunt the words themselves.

I took a creative writing course my first year at university, and I still remember the time one of my classmates attached the dialogue tag "he spat" to a moderately long paragraph. Our teacher then attempted to spit that whole paragraph of dialogue for our amusement. Needless to say, the attempt was not exactly a smashing success.
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at 07:57 on 08-07-2011, Shimmin
I don't have any problem with a sprinkling of adverbs myself, as long as they're not after every line. And while I do take your points about unnecessary avoidance, the odd "panted" or "grunted" can convey a lot. A made-up example:
A figure burst through the doors of the hall and dropped on one knee. "Urgent message for the Queen!" panted the guardsman.
A figure burst through the doors of the hall and dropped on one knee. "Urgent message for the Queen!" said the guardsman.
Yes, it's not a million miles apart, but the first one implies things about the guardsman's condition that just aren't there in "said", and does it by changing a single word rather than inserting a paragraph of description that might slow down the story.

Generally it's a perfectly good way to convey things about characters who won't be explored much in the text. Your Harry example works fine, Melissa, but quite often people do just convey things in the way they speak, rather than by pummelling tables. And Dan,
If the only clue I have that your character is angry about something is that you use the word "angrily" when describing their dialogue, your dialogue is badly written and your character is poorly characterized.
that's all well and good for main characters, but if someone wants to establish that a bit-part character is angry about something, putting in "angrily" really is a perfectly valid and efficient way to do that, without giving them a four-chapter backstory and extensive character development, so they can sell the protagonist a pint of their finest ale or whatever.

Guy, not sure if I interpreted you right, but... I don't think I agree about there being a "right" way to interpret dialogue (or anything else really), but that isn't an objection to the author conveying the manner of the dialogue, which is often just description. I mean, if they're using that as a way to insist that somebody's witty and heroic who is clearly a blithering waste of space, that's different. But describing the manner of dialogue really isn't qualitatively different from describing anything else. Nuance is all very well, but actively removing cues you get in real-life conversation doesn't strike me as a bonus.

But then, I don't watch Shakespeare more than once.
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at 21:58 on 07-07-2011, Arthur B
Precisely. I'd also point out that this has the advantage that you're actually describing something which is clear and easy to imagine, instead of just telling the reader what you would like to conclude (I mean what does saying something "angrily" even sound like).

Not to mention it makes the scene seem more interesting than two people standing still going words words words words words at each other.
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at 21:57 on 07-07-2011, Dan H
Incidentally, excellent examples of said-bookisms in action (although they are, of course, far from the text's biggest problem) occur in the Eye of Argon.

Highlights include:

"Prepare to embrace your creators in the stygian haunts of hell, barbarian", gasped the first soldier.

"Damn you, barbarian" Shrieked the soldier as he observed his comrade in death.

And of course the particularly fine exchange:

"Carthena, daughter of Minkardos, Duke of Barwego, whose lands border along the northwestern fringes of Gorzom. I was paid as homage to Agaphim upon his thirty-eighth year," husked the femme!

"And I am called a barbarian!" Grunted Grignr in a disgusted tone!

"Aye! The ways of our civilization are in many ways warped and distorted, but what is your calling," she queried, bustily?
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at 21:53 on 07-07-2011, Dan H
In the last two, we still understand that Harry is angry/upset about what he is saying, but without having to tell the audience directly that Harry is saying something angrily. I have found this to be a much more successful way of showing and not telling, personally.


Precisely. I'd also point out that this has the advantage that you're actually describing something which is clear and easy to imagine, instead of just telling the reader what you would like to conclude (I mean what does saying something "angrily" even sound like).
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at 21:35 on 07-07-2011, Melissa G.
That's sort of the thing, though. Putting adverbs in speech is a lousy way to establish how a character feels about something. You establish how the character *feels* about something through their *behaviour* not by telling me that they're talking in a way which expresses a particular feeling.


What I was taught once, and have come to really agree with is that instead of writing dialogue tags (he said, she said), it was better to preface the sentence with a character's action or facial expression or some other detail. For example, to use Harry again, compare these two:

"He killed my parents," Harry said angrily.
and
Harry's mouth twisted into an ugly grimace. "He killed my parents."
or
Harry slammed his fist down on the table. "He killed my parents."

In the last two, we still understand that Harry is angry/upset about what he is saying, but without having to tell the audience directly that Harry is saying something angrily. I have found this to be a much more successful way of showing and not telling, personally.
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at 20:37 on 07-07-2011, Dan H
Saying written works are better without that detail is like saying sheet music shouldn't include dynamics.


I'm not great at music analogies, but I'd suggest that it's more like saying that a piece of music shouldn't be accompanied by an audio track which explains how you're supposed to be reacting to the music you're listening to.

On the other hand, sometimes you definitely want to convey something, and leaving it open to interpretation can ruin what you're trying to say.


Only if you're saying it badly.

If the only clue I have that your character is angry about something is that you use the word "angrily" when describing their dialogue, your dialogue is badly written and your character is poorly characterized.

It's like that bit in Revenge of the Sith when Anakin Skywalker tells Obi-Wan Kenobi "from my point of view, the Jedi are evil". I'm sure George Lucas really did want to convey that from Anakin's point of view, the Jedi were evil, but having him just *say it* doesn't actually convey anything of the sort.

With your "killed my parents" example, I'd say it IS important to establish how Harry feels about that, especially if it contributes to his motivation to do what he does.


That's sort of the thing, though. Putting adverbs in speech is a lousy way to establish how a character feels about something. You establish how the character *feels* about something through their *behaviour* not by telling me that they're talking in a way which expresses a particular feeling.

If a reader interprets "he killed my parents" as a matter-of-fact thing, it's going to seem incongruous if Harry runs into battle screaming, "YOU MURDERER!!!"


It's only going to seem incongruous if *nothing* about Harry's behaviour prior to the final confrontation leads the reader to believe that he is angry about his parents' death. In which case the book is just flat out badly written.

"'He killed my parents!' shouted Harry angrily." does not actually convey Harry's anger at his parents' death, all it does it inform me that Harry is, apparently, saying this sentence in a loud voice and that apparently the manner in which he is doing it is an angry one.

This is the big problem with adverbs and said-bookisms, they create a *false* sense of clarity. Telling me a character "shouts" something instead of saying it doesn't tell me anything about what they're feeling, telling me they say something "angrily" doesn't tell me why they're angry. Often, in fact, describing the way somebody says something can be extremely misleading. For example if somebody "shouts" something "angrily" I will generally assume that they are angry with the person they are talking *to*, not the person they're talking *about*, so if "shouted Harry angrily" was an attempt to convey Harry's anger over his parents' murder, it fails abysmally.
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at 19:52 on 07-07-2011, Wardog
I guess I just don't subscribe to that philosophy. Personally, one thing I like about movies is that they give you the "right" way to interpret the dialogue.

This is kind of nonsense - just because someone speaks some dialogue a certain way doesn't mean that's the "right" interpretation. I mean part of the reason you can keep watching Shakespeare plays over and over again is that every performance, every interpretation, is different yet still valid.

You seem to view the act of the reading to be a process by which a reader comes to an understanding of a text closest in line with what the author intended - whereas texts are interesting to interact with because they support multiple interpretations, and the experiences and understanding a reader brings to a text is just as important as the experiences and understanding the author brings.

Reading IS interpretation.

Right and wrong are irrelevant here.
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at 19:43 on 07-07-2011, Gamer_2k4
It really isn't a problem if I intend Harry to be shouting this line angrily and you read it as him whispering it bitterly, or sighing it longingly, or ejaculating it forcefully. Part of the joy of written fiction is that the reader gets to fill in the detail themselves, and it absolutely *isn't* a failure of literature if the reader imagines something which isn't what the author expected them to imagine.

I guess I just don't subscribe to that philosophy. Personally, one thing I like about movies is that they give you the "right" way to interpret the dialogue. Saying written works are better without that detail is like saying sheet music shouldn't include dynamics. Sure, sometimes you want to leave things ambiguous, and sometimes it's not important how something is presented. On the other hand, sometimes you definitely want to convey something, and leaving it open to interpretation can ruin what you're trying to say.

To use another music example, consider Chopin's Revolutionary Étude. It sounds weird and unbalanced, and the average listener might think, "What the heck is going on with this piece?" It's only when you understand the story behind the piece and you know what Chopin was trying to do that the piece starts making sense. In the same way, adding those descriptive words and passages helps preclude the wrong notions, the ones that diminish the work in the eyes of the reader.

With your "killed my parents" example, I'd say it IS important to establish how Harry feels about that, especially if it contributes to his motivation to do what he does. A character who fights for revenge is more compelling than one who simply does so because he's good and the opposition is evil and that's the way it has to be. By clearly establishing a character's mood and state of mind, you can frame scenes and logically set up future events and actions. If a reader interprets "he killed my parents" as a matter-of-fact thing, it's going to seem incongruous if Harry runs into battle screaming, "YOU MURDERER!!!"

In other words, you're right that it's not a failure of literature if a reader has the "wrong" interpretation, but at the same time, that wrong interpretation may IMPLY a failure of literature to the reader where none actually exists.
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at 18:21 on 07-07-2011, Dan H
I get where you're coming from, but I think you're drawing some slightly false comparisons, and making some slightly wobbly assumptions.

Firstly, it's entirely possible to communicate online without using emoticons - people seldom use them in the playpen, for example, but we don't have that many major misunderstandings. Emoticons are there to replace non-verbal cues like tone of voice and body language, not to describe the way in which a line is supposed to be expressed. And it's not like we end all of our IMs with little descriptions like "he said, angrily".

Secondly, a lot of the time the words that are used to replace "said" aren't actually very appropriate. Sometimes they're too forceful (how often do people really "shout", "yell" or "wail" anything?). Sometimes they're nonsensical in context (a little part of me dies every time somebody is described as "hissing" a sentence which has no sibilants in it and I've never quite worked out how you "smile" anything). Sometimes they just have unfortunate associations ("that verb has unfortunate associations!" he ejaculated). Sometimes it will be appropriate to use a word other than "said" to describe speech - most commonly you might want to use "asked" for when somebody is asking a question - but no clarity is gained by substituting words like "queried" "inquired" or "requested".

Thirdly, unlike person-to-person communication, where it's vital that you understand as closely as possible the meaning I am attempting to convey and the way I want to convey it, in a book there is absolutely nothing wrong with the reader interpreting a line of dialogue differently to the author. Consider the following lines of dialogue:

"He killed my parents!" shouted Harry, angrily.
"He killed my parents." stated Harry, flatly.
"He killed my parents," explained Harry, matter-of-factly.
"He killed my parents," observed Harry, conflictedly.

Now each one of these conveys something different but, crucially, none of them actually conveys anything terribly important, subtle, or interesting. Indeed in each case the description (arguably) removes the sense of nuance which you would get from a simple:

"He killed my parents," said Harry.

It really isn't a problem if I intend Harry to be shouting this line angrily and you read it as him whispering it bitterly, or sighing it longingly, or ejaculating it forcefully. Part of the joy of written fiction is that the reader gets to fill in the detail themselves, and it absolutely *isn't* a failure of literature if the reader imagines something which isn't what the author expected them to imagine.

The final thing about said-bookisms is that the phenomenon has to be understood in context. There is a widespread and false belief (still propagated, to the best of my knowledge, in schools all over the English speaking world) that it is *wrong* to use "said" to describe dialogue and that people should *actively seek* to use other "better" or "more interesting" words instead. Obviously nobody is suggesting that "said" is the *only* word that can be used to describe dialogue (most obviously, it is common practice to use "asked" when somebody is asking a direct question) but it's important to remember that *avoiding* the use of "said" is as ludicrous as avoiding the use of "the" or "of" or any other basic functional word.

Hope that helps.
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at 16:54 on 07-07-2011, Gamer_2k4
So, I recently stumbled upon the concept of Said Bookism, and something about it rubs me the wrong way. I think my biggest issue is the statement, "Dialogue should speak for itself without needing fancy tags to convey its meaning and intention."

I understand the sentiment behind this. If you're presenting dialogue, you want to reader to be immersed in it, rather than subjecting them to breaks from (unnecessary?) descriptive text. Taken to the extreme, it follows that the best dialogue has almost no descriptors at all, being entirely self-sufficient.

But dialogue is never self-sufficient, not in writing anyway. There's a reason we use emoticons in IMs and texts: Words alone do not always convey enough information. The context of the conversation and participants isn't enough either; it's the reason that an an online chat between close friends can still have misunderstandings. In other words, Said Bookism is not a bad thing unless (as with anything) it's taken too far.

Anyway, that's my take. What do you guys think?
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at 16:19 on 07-07-2011, Arthur B
Seriously, it's like her department ran out of a punctuation budget when she was halfway through writing it.
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at 15:48 on 07-07-2011, Michal
In my continued search, I found this, which I found amusing. But yes, I think the gist of it is that Butler was missing the point that, when you got down to it, it was an awful sentence. Strip away all the academic objections, and it's still an awful sentence.
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at 15:37 on 07-07-2011, Guy
I think she's talking about the evolution of critical theory from Marx to Foucault. Marx says, the economic base determines the social superstructure, eg, your class position determines how you're going to think and live. ("...capital is understood to structure social relations..."). Althusser, noticing that Marx's predictions about revolution against the ruling class are not in any hurry to happen spontaneously, suggests that ideological power apparatuses (church, school, family, &c...) work to prevent that from happening. Certain ideas ("you should be loyal to the country you were born in") have a grip on the populace as a whole and serve to prevent them from rising up and throwing off their chains. The term "hegemony" is generally used (in this context, anyway) to talk about the dominance of those ideological constructs that keep people trapped in a system that exploits them. Althusser marks a distinction between... I forget the terminology but it's something like "ideology" vs "science"; the former being the ideas that powerful people get you to believe in order to keep a handle on you, and the latter being true ideas which help you to get a handle on the world. Then Foucault comes along and basically says, actually, everything is ideology, or, there's no clear way to make a distinction between ideas that are useful to you as an individual and ideas that are useful to maintain certain social relations; being patriotic, for example, might be genuinely helpful to you in getting ahead in some areas of life, and the people you help by being patriotic aren't necessarily some Capitalists in top hats with monocles meeting in dark rooms to plot the exploitation of the workers - they might be your neighbours, or whoever. All power relationships depend on people believing certain things, but that doesn't mean you can get rid of power relationships by having everybody just not believe anything, because then how are they going to do the shopping? But if you pay attention to how existing power relationships are constructed, you'll notice that they are being generated in specific ways ("the contingent sites and strategies of the rearticulation of power") (contingent because people have to keep changing their strategies because what works keeps changing, and rearticulating because old sites of power ebb and new ones rise and if you want to stay powerful you have to find ways to stay on top of that changing landscape) and therefore if there are some particular power relationships you don't like, then disrupting them is going to take something more than the tearing down of some fixed structure ("structural totalities" being things like patriarchy; if you think of patriarchy as a thing you can tear down and trample on, you'll keep tearing down the wrong things while the real power moves elsewhere...) and more like some kind of disruption of the process of rearticulation of some particular hegemonic ideal/value.

I don't know if that's 100% accurate, but about a million years at university was enough for me. :P And in the final analysis, I'm with Arthur: that is a bad sentence. It is not working hard enough to communicate clearly and directly. On the whole I am persuaded by this (long) article by Chomsky:
http://cscs.umich.edu/~crshalizi/chomsky-on-postmodernism.html
...the nut of which is for me, complicated theories are good if and only if they lead you, by strong arguments, to conclusions which you would not have arrived at by simpler means. Einstein said "everything should be as simple as possible, but no simpler". I think a great deal of academic discourse these days is unfortunately devoted to the principle that if it's as complex as possible, or preferably, more than is possible, it will confound and impress those who have trouble understanding it. Which is a shame because it means that a lot of good work gets lost in the wash.
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at 12:31 on 07-07-2011, Arthur B
I think the response is along the lines of this:

- Firstly, the journal who's given out this award seems to be pursuing an agenda that those who report on it haven't really questioned or explored.
- Secondly, the ideas dealt with by extremely academic studies of rhetoric and philosophy and so on are often extremely complex, to the point where discussing them using ordinary language, non-specialised language takes up a lot of space. Specialised terminology is useful because it allows you to sum up these ideas in brief without sacrificing a lot of what you're saying. Expressing the quote involved in everyday language, for example, would entail a bit to explain what is meant by "structuralist", a bit to explain what was meant by "capital", a bit to explain what was meant by "homologous", a bit to explain what was meant by "hegemony"... and so on.
- Lastly, taking out of context brief summaries of positions explored and explained more comprehensively - in other words, abstracts written for an audience which has already absorbed the arguments leading to it and therefore knows the specialised terminology - is always going to make them look odd.

All of which I agree with.

However, that doesn't change the fact that the quote you've got there is a horrendously constructed sentence, and probably should never have been deployed as a single sentence. So it seems like she's assuming the objection is to the specialised language she's using, rather than to the fact that she's trying to make one sentence do the work of two or three paragraphs.
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at 07:02 on 07-07-2011, Michal
I've become oddly interested in a kerfuffle from over a decade ago. Namely, Judith Butler wrote this sentence:

The move from a structuralist account in which capital is understood to structure social relations in relatively homologous ways to a view of hegemony in which power relations are subject to repetition, convergence, and rearticulation brought the question of temporality into the thinking of structure, and marked a shift from a form of Althusserian theory that takes structural totalities as theoretical objects to one in which the insights into the contingent possibility of structure inaugurate a renewed conception of hegemony as bound up with the contingent sites and strategies of the rearticulation of power.

And "won" a "bad academic writing" award for it (Well-deserved, I think. Only Slavoy Zizek is higher on my list of "most confusing writers in academia today"). But no, what I'm fascinated by is that Judith Butler wrote a response defending this sentence. And I'm still trying to figure it out. Help?
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