Last week, we discussed head-hopping, and the week before, we covered out-of-body experiences. This is the third post in a three-part series.
“The code is more what you’d call guidelines than actual rules.” —Captain Barbossa, Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl
Did I say there are no absolute rules in writing? If not, let me do it now. There are no absolute rules in writing.
Enter the great debate over floating body parts (FBPs)—those pesky parts acting of their own volition or doing physically impossible feats. Taken literally, these phrases can be comical. I read this line in a romance novel by a NYT best-selling author (who shall remain unnamed): “Her eyes ate him up.” Call the forensics team! We’ve got a cannibal at the Smith’s place.
Well-worn, culturally meaningful phrases like “rolled her eyes” and “threw up her hands” have practically reached the status of idioms, figurative language that isn’t to be taken literally and has a meaning other than what the words say. You can fuss all you like, but eventually, the sheer weight of common usage inevitably leads to general acceptance. Avoid using them if you are able but accept that we, as choosy authors and editors, are on the losing side.
Hold the phone. Don’t rush down to the comments and burn me in effigy. I may turn off the comments if only to frustrate those, on both sides of the debate, who cannot resist arguing for their opinions. If you aren’t polite, I will delete your comment.
Yes, FBPs can weaken your writing. Yes, FBPs can be embarrassingly funny. Yes, some agents and editors will reject your work out of hand. But are FBPs to be avoided at all costs? No. Overzealous editors will flag FBPs every time, but I believe there are mitigating circumstances:
Authors, do not let your fear of committing the great FBP sin stop you from writing your story any way you please on the first pass. Annoying clichés and funny word pictures can be weeded out in the editing phase. Don’t worry about it; just get it written.
But in the editing phase, do not use the argument that other (famous) writers use FBPs or that FBPs sound more creative. Editing is supposed to be hard and critical. Floating body parts are a potential weakness you want to minimize.
Don't miss the first two posts in this series:
Thanks for reading this series. Send me your best/worst examples of floating body parts via the contact page or put them in the comments below. I look forward to hearing from you.