Tag s | Grammar

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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Oxymorons

Oxymorons can be fun. Two words that can have contradictory meaning are put together to create a new phrase. Or it can be expanded to mean two separate thoughts or ideas that are in direct conflict with each other but when combined create something new.

For example, if you’ve ever worked in a cubicle you can see the humor in the description “office space.”

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A Writer’s Best Friend

If I asked you what you considered to be a writer’s best friend, what would you say? Please don’t say “Wikipedia.” My clients would probably reply, “Bob Hostetler.” But that can’t be everyone’s answer. You might consider “a fine fountain pen” or “a blank page in a brand new journal” …

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Grammar and the Singular “They”

Yesterday I opened a can of worms. There were many worms in the can; some male and some female. I discovered that a few of the worms were married to each other. One couple was having a marital disagreement. They were arguing about grammar, of all things. The fight was about the proper use of gender pronouns. Here is the sentence under dispute:

“When a spouse greets a partner with derision because of an opinion, what should be ___ reaction?”

Fill in the blank. Should you use his, his or her, or their? This is a grammatical conundrum. Your choice will determine whether you will be categorized as “sexist,” “tiresome,” or “ungrammatical.”

Our vernacular has changed over the past years due to our sensitivity over the generic “he.” For some it is a matter of being politically correct. For others it is merely a way of being inclusive of both genders in their writing. In addition it can be simply a matter of using the common language of everyday speech.

So what is correct?

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Tools to Tackle Grammar Gaffes

Oh my. We all have our peccadillos when it comes to English, don’t we? If I addressed them all, we’d be here til next year. So I’ll just give you the cheats…uh, tips I use most often. —Don’t be afraid of me. Poor ol’ me has been sorely maligned, as …

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