Saturday, September 12, 2015

Oh, 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. 

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 have definitely been guilty. I have to catch myself. Also, I see top name writers doing the body parts thing. Where are their editors? Have these errors become acceptable?

Laura Thomas said...

You caught me. LOL I do let some of these slip through. It's just that I hear and read them all the time and don't think much about it.

What's odd is, I do beta reads and catch this kind of thing all the time, but don't catch my own writing.

Ellis Vidler said...

Polly and Laura, I'm guilty too. It's always easier to spot things in others' work than my own. I just hope my beta readers spot them, and they usually do.