Friday, May 18, 2018

What's in a Word - Keeping Your Characters in Charge, or Not Letting Body Parts Wander Off on Their Own

Lately I've been going through a lot of books, some bestsellers, some not, and some extremely enjoyable. But let's face it, everyone has their pets peeves, the thing no one else seems to notice but what yanks you right out of the story.

For me it's autonomous body parts, as anyone I beta for can vouch for. You know, when body parts act on their own while the character sits back and does nothing.

"His hand gripped the phone." No, he gripped the phone.

"Her hand turned the steering wheel." No, her hand has no power on its own. She turned the steering wheel.

When this is really obvious is during sex scenes. Even if it never occurs anywhere else in a book, some authors tend to break people down into parts during intimacy. It distances me from the characters and action, and makes me wonder if it's the author's way of distancing themselves, if they're not entirely comfortable writing sex.

When we're reading, we are supposed to fully immerse in story, become the character, so "His lips kissed..." adds distance, whereas "he kissed" not only keeps the protag in charge of his body parts, it helps us be the character.

Don't get me wrong, my early efforts have examples of this, coaxed out of me (sometimes forcefully) by editors. Which might be why I notice so much.

But when all is said and done, "he" is a lot easier to write than "his hand" and keeps the person in control of his body.

The one that gives me bad visuals is "my eyes flew to the window." Ouch.

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