Saturday, December 15, 2012

Those Flying Body Parts

Have you ever heard the term “flying body parts”? Flying body parts occur when the parts act independently of the person.
Most of us are guilty of occasionally writing them into our work. They do slip in, especially with eyes. Her eyes swept the room. We all know what that means, but such statements conjure up bizarre pictures and can take the reader right out of the story. Do you see the eyes floating around, controlling the broom? Magic of an unintended kind!
If the person (as opposed to the body part) performs the action, the logic doesn’t jar the reader so much. If body parts, usually hands, feet, or eyes, perform the action, they can create a weird image of the part acting independently of the person. They’re often called flying body parts. Examples:
Her eyes flew upward to the crows. Better, She glanced upward at the crows.
His foot kicked the ball. Better He kicked the ball.
Her hand reached for his. Better She reached for his hand.
Even though readers know what the sentence means, these images can yank them out of the story. Read those body part lines carefully to see if they convey the correct image.
Sometimes, even when the person performs the action, the verb doesn’t work. She shot her eyes at him. It makes the reader wonder how, with a sling shot? She tossed her hand in the air, dismissing him. She can toss her hair but not her hand, or she could wave her hand.
Have you ever been guilty? Have any good examples to share?


Polly Iyer said...

I've had to restrain myself sometimes not to have a flying body part. And you're right, it's usually the eyes. I wish there were other words besides gaze and look. Yes, glance is one; stared is another, but they are specific. Trying to avoid some words makes the narrative stilted, and I've been guilty of that too. As always, Ellis, good post.

Jan Christensen said...

My favorite is "Her eyes dropped to the floor." Lately I've seen quite a few eyes snapping open or shut. Maybe the lids can do that, but the eyes themselves seem quite a stretch. It's fun, though, when we find them!

Ellis Vidler said...

I too wish there were more words than see, gaze, and look. Snapping shut doesn't quite get it, does it, Jan?

How about focus? That's specific too though. Maybe there are other ways to express it. Wish someone would come up with some to share.