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 08:23 on 12-07-2011, Arthur B
Yeah, I did a search for his comments on Black Gate and I think it's fair to say that if he hadn't provided something of value to the site owners (or had dirt on them) then it beggars belief that they don't consider him a nuisance. Not least because of his maddening tendency to post more or less the same rant over and over again with mild variations. (He keeps banging on, for example, about his conspiracy theory that when the head of DAW Books died his daughter took over and immediately cancelled the Gor contract.)

I like “pulp” and “Sword and Sorcery” in all its gory, sexist, glory. Big, awesome barbarians, though an occasional wizard or rouge can slip in. Women are to be barmaids, princesses, slave girls, dancers, victims to be rescued, etc. Blacks and MezoAmerican like peoples are either rare “Noble Savages” or hideous cannibals with filed teeth. Orientals are sinister characters, though their women look hot but unless they are “Rescued sacrifice victim” also very sinister. Of course, awesome “Noble Savages” think Kubotai from “Conan the Barbarian”! Mix in lovecraft, westerns, maybe some not too queer Burroughs like stuff…

Oh gosh, that's just special.

Have you seen this conversation? He goes into a little detail about the sort of stories he'd like to write and direct if he had his way.

“NO! The VENGEANCE SQUAD doesn’t just SCARE the pig that sent jobs overseas and laid off Americans! They break into his house and with hot pliers MUTILATE him and his FAMILY in front of him! Really, can’t that 8 year old “actress” brat playing his daughter tolerate some fake blood and spirit gum as fake torn skin? She sure screams loud enough when they don’t bring her the right gourmet entre from some cafe I can’t pronounce the name of…”

I guess someone might be mad about losing their job?
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at 02:20 on 12-07-2011, Michal
I am amazed that the response to GreenGestalt wasn't simply a torrent of ridicule.

I mean, maybe Black Gate has a fairly tight moderating policy, but I can't imagine many other places where people are still taken halfway seriously after posting something like that aside from crank conspiracy theory outlets and Men's Rights sites.

I'm not sure what's going on in the comments section of Black Gate. From what I understand, GreenGestalt might've sold a story to the magazine, once, which is why they let him yammer on every time someone makes a joky post about Gor. I don't know, and I don't even think it's very likely. He blamed the PC wussifying of the market for his inability to publish anything, for one thing, instead of the (more probable) reason that he might just be a bad writer who also happens to be racist, sexist and homophobic.

Then again, I noticed someone just got pounced on in the blog post I linked for even suggesting what Theo said might just be a tad bit sexist. I mean "he cannot reasonably be described as sexist due to his institutional and cultural preferences for non-female writers"...really? REALLY? It's a bit of a shame because some of the contributors to the site are really great people (Brian Murphy and Matthew David Surridge spring to mind). Plus, I've been quoted on it, and would rather not have guilt by association.

Also, check out GreenGestalt's political cartoons on YouTube.

The lack of talent and humour in that video is astounding. Just astounding.
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at 02:04 on 12-07-2011, Alasdair Czyrnyj
Oh hell yes. One man fights his way through Pathologic and lives to blog the tale.
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at 00:12 on 12-07-2011, Cammalot
(There should be an "is" in there...)
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at 23:44 on 11-07-2011, Cammalot
I love this.

Mind, this someone I know. I am not exactly unbiased.
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at 14:05 on 11-07-2011, Dan H
Sorry, responding to a slightly older discussion (have been without internets).

Obviously, wider cultural perceptions and so on will differ and thats fine, but
things that are simply correct language comprehension?


Even that's more ambiguous than you might think, because language often has quite subtle distinctions in it and (at the risk of overgeneralising quite a technical point) no two native English speakers will understand every single English sentence the same way.

A good example is probably things like "smiled", "choked", and of course "hissed" as speech tags - some people (like Gamer2k4 I think) - are okay with these terms because they act like easy-to-use labels for particular forms of speech, while other people find them annoying and jarring (because they get hung up on how you actually gasp, or pant, or choke the individual words).
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at 08:12 on 11-07-2011, Arthur B
I am amazed that the response to GreenGestalt wasn't simply a torrent of ridicule.

I mean, maybe Black Gate has a fairly tight moderating policy, but I can't imagine many other places where people are still taken halfway seriously after posting something like that aside from crank conspiracy theory outlets and Men's Rights sites. (Spoiler:
THEY'RE THE SAME THING.
)

Also, check out GreenGestalt's political cartoons on YouTube.
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at 06:37 on 11-07-2011, Michal
Let's chalk it all to personal taste, shall we?

I feel like addressing the article thoroughly, but I have a mortal fear of joining up and posting in the Black Gate comments section after seeing some accusations there that Lin Carter was, in fact, murdered in a conspiracy by political correct zealots to discredit the fantasy genre, and that the Gor series was dropped due to the machinations of evil feminists spreading their nefarious tendrils throughout the fantasy publishing industry.

I'm not joking. (It's the third comment down)
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at 23:01 on 10-07-2011, Alasdair Czyrnyj
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.

Oh, that's very true. I do like to just read things aloud every once and awhile, and there really is a difference between reading silently (where you can just subconsciously ignore some elements of style and absorb the words as pure information) and reciting a passage (where you have to consciously notice the structure so you can rebroadcast the passage correctly).

Actually saw this used to some effect in a comic adaptation of a Babysitter's Club book once (DON'T JUDGE ME! I WORK IN A LIBRARY! SOMETIMES I GET BORED!), where one of the characters spoke with a stilted, somewhat awkward phraseology that suggested she had picked up most of her cues regarding speech from reading rather than conversing with other people. A little crude as a device, yes, but effective all the same.

It also reminded me of how I usually speak, which was a bit of a kick in the pants, let me tell you.
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at 09:57 on 10-07-2011, Shim
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.

That's true, but I think Vermisvere was meaning the fluffier kind of interpretation; that's certainly what I meant in my previous post. More pragmatics than syntax. Things like how you perceive a particular level of description, or how a writing style comes across to you, or what impression of a character you get from the structure of their dialogue. For a non-text example: I've seen suggestions that one reason Americans tend to perceive British men as effeminate is that Brits have a slightly higher tendency to cross their legs when sitting down. I believe that we're also felt to overuse "please" and "thanks" to the point of insincerity compared to some cultures; that strikes me as something that could come across in writing differently depending on cultural background.

In terms of writing generally, compared to other languages, modern English has a low tolerance for repeating the same word in close proximity. It also tends towards longer sentences than the Celtic languages I read, partly because of structural differences (Celtic languages use prepositional phrases a lot, often where English has a verb, so sentences can get very complicated very quickly). So something that comes across as brisk and fast-paced to people of English-speaking background might not create the same effect if a reader's literary expectations are different (if that makes sense) even though they're perfectly fluent in the language. Or culturally, a way to describing or talking to someone that's affectionate in one culture might seem patronising or creepy or threatening in another.

I mean the same applies to some extent when you move into a genre you haven't read much before and have to adapt to new norms, so it seems plausible that cultural background might have a similar influence, and in the same way it would probably wane the more English literature you read.

So that's all speculation, it's broadly my area but not something I've studied, but there's probably research on it... might look into that.
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at 05:56 on 10-07-2011, Vermisvere
“…Is it possible for the system to sustain simultaneously political subjection and the subjectivity of the producer/consumer? It does not really seem so. In effect, the fundamental condition of the existence of the universal network, which is the central hypothesis of this constitutional framework, is that it be hybrid, and that is, for our purposes, that the political subject be fleeting and passive, while the producing and consuming agent is present and active. This means that, far from being a simple repetition of a traditional
equilibrium, the formation of the new mixed constitution leads to a fundamental disequilibrium among the established actors and thus to a new social dynamic that liberates the producing and consuming subject from (or at least makes ambiguous its position within) the mechanisms of political subjection….”

The reviewer's best guess was that the passage said "consumers make bad citizens."


My best guess would have to be "the new proposed framework will liberate the economic aspect of the system from the political aspect, with the former playing an active role in the new system, whilst the latter plays a passive role. This will upset the currently established social dynamic, in which the producing and consuming aspect is closely tied to political subjectivity"...or something like that anyway, I think.

Ow, that entire passage just made my head hurt.

This reminds me of something I drew a while back.


Ha, ha, nice! Someone should make a Ray Winstone/Hugh Jackman hybrid and get him to say "I AM BEOWULVARINE!".
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at 03:29 on 10-07-2011, Michal
The reminds me of something I drew a while back.

I love the fact that "Picard fights Cthulhu" has a soundtrack. Picard vs. Cthulhu goes right up on the list of "works capable of inspiring awesome shock", methinks.
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at 01:51 on 10-07-2011, Alasdair Czyrnyj
And now, ladies and gentlemen, art in its purest form.
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at 01:50 on 10-07-2011, Alasdair Czyrnyj
Actually, Michal, I didn't find that passage you posted completely unreadable. I'll be the first to admit that I'm basically shit at any philosophical discussion, but I could sorta muddle out a meaning.

Now, if you want Grade A academic gibberish, Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri's Empire is a damned good source. One review I read quoted this passage:

“…Is it possible for the system to sustain simultaneously political subjection and the subjectivity of the producer/consumer? It does not really seem so. In effect, the fundamental condition of the existence of the universal network, which is the central hypothesis of this constitutional framework, is that it be hybrid, and that is, for our purposes, that the political subject be fleeting and passive, while the producing and consuming agent is present and active. This means that, far from being a simple repetition of a traditional equilibrium, the formation of the new mixed constitution leads to a fundamental disequilibrium among the established actors and thus to a new social dynamic that liberates the producing and consuming subject from (or at least makes ambiguous its position within) the mechanisms of political subjection….”

The reviewer's best guess was that the passage said "consumers make bad citizens."

Of course, even a six-year old knows the real purpose of obtuse writing.
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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, Shim

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, Shim
@ 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, Shim
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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