Author Tamela Hancock Murray

Floating … Floating … Gone …

Writers learn about craft at conferences and on blogs, so I don’t pretend to be breaking new ground with this post. Yet I still see what are known as floating body parts and cliché creep into otherwise great stories. No, I don’t mean murder mysteries depicting a stray arm drifting in a river. I refer to much gentler fare.

Yes, floating body parts offer the reader–and writer–shortcuts. But relying on them as descriptions in narrative doesn’t challenge anyone’s imagination.

Rolling Eyes

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 to 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 “Ban Those Floating Body Parts” 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 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.

Old Hat

Clichés 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 clichés. Here is a list of clichés found on a website.

Your Turn

What floating body parts and clichés distract you the most in books?

When, if ever, have you seen a cliché or floating body part used effectively?

 

[A version of this post originally ran in November 2011.]

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Tag, You’re It!

One of the most common habits I see burdening stories is overemphasis on conversational tags, which goes hand in hand with not making good use of action tags. Here’s an example I just made up:

“No,” she exclaimed. She looked at the the pot of stew bubbling the stove and saw red juice splattering. She began to stir.

Unable to resist multitasking, I demonstrated several bad habits in the above sample of poor writing.

First, punctuation. When a character exclaims, use an exclamation point.

“No!”

“She exclaimed” adds no new information unless you need to designate a character from several so in almost every case, omit it. Same can be said for tags such as “said” and “asked.” In fact, “asked” accomplishes nothing because the question mark says it all.

Any tag should reflect what the character is saying. “He’s a slippery snake,” she hissed, trumps, “What a viper,” she hissed. If in doubt, entertain the office cat. Read sentences aloud to make sure the tag works.

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A Different Perspective

When I was in grade school, a nosy neighbor decided my parents were too conservative, so she loaned me some of her old books by Helen Van Slyke. My parents let me read anything in book form, so we were good to go. Helen was a divorced New York City …

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What Were They Reading?

In attempting to declutter, I am culling my book collection. Parting with beloved tomes is one of the hardest parts of decluttering for me since I enjoy books so much! I’m keeping copies of all the books I’ve written and the many I have had the honor of representing. Because …

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To Romance or Not to Romance

According to St. Teresa of Avila’s biography, the battle over romance novels has been going on at least since the 1500s:

Teresa’s father was rigidly honest and pious, but he may have carried his strictness to extremes. Teresa’s mother loved romance novels but because her husband objected to these fanciful books, she hid the books from him. This put Teresa in the middle — especially since she liked the romances too. Her father told her never to lie but her mother told her not to tell her father. Later she said she was always afraid that no matter what she did she was going to do everything wrong.

Those of us who write, represent, and publish Christian romance novels can be made to feel the same way when our brothers and sisters in Christ object to our efforts to provide readers with God-honoring entertainment.  I have spoken with authors whose pastors have derided their writing, read negative blogs, and heard conference speakers criticize Christian romance novels.

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