by Tamela Hancock Murray
Writers conferences and blogs talk about this topic often so I don’t pretend to be breaking new ground with this post. Yet I still see some floating body parts and cliches creep into otherwise great stories. No, I don’t mean murder mysteries depicting a stray arm floating in a river. I mean much gentler fare.
Yes, floating body parts offer the reader — and writer — shortcuts. But relying on them as description in narrative doesn’t challenge anyone’s imagination.
The offender I see most often is:
“She rolled her eyes.”
Yes, we all know this means that her eyes went from the ceiling and back. No, wait a minute. Her eyes didn’t go the ceiling and back. Her gaze went to the ceiling and back. See the difference? No pun intended.
Eyes are never glued anywhere — unless you’re talking about a stuffed teddy bear.
Fingers and feet don’t fly on their own.
And don’t throw up an arm — I’m terrible at sports and liable not to catch it.
Want to eliminate these from your writing? This post from A Novel Writing Site offers suggestions, along with substitutions for the word “gaze.”
Never Famous Enough
Some bloggers say that famous writers can get away with using floating body parts. Perhaps. But rather than than striving to be famous enough to get away with using them, why not hone your writing to its best, regardless of where you are in your career? Use your powerful imagination to find other ways of describing eyes locking and stares boring. The only exception I would make is that in dialogue, the occasional floating body part is appropriate. Why? Because that’s how some people express themselves. But narrative should be more formal.
Cliches are just as distracting as floating body parts in narrative. But for the same reasons as floating body parts may work in dialogue, so can a few well-placed cliches. For a pretty comprehensive list (caution — contains the occasional off-color word), read Cliches, Avoid Them Like the Plague.
What floating body parts and cliches distract you the most in books? When, if ever, have you seen a cliche or floating body part used effectively?