Disembodied Body Parts

No, I’m not about to start writing horror novels, although some have indicated my young adult psychological thrillers do fall into that category. What I’m talking about today are those body parts that seem to carry the action without input from the character.

We’ve all seen this in published books. My eyes caught sight of… or my feet carried me away… or any number of body parts doing a job without the rest of the character taking part in the action. Writers are visual artists. We see the scene unfolding and portray that to the reader, but sometimes we become too involved in the story and those body parts take on a life of their own.

Now, if you are writing the next great zombie thriller, or perhaps a crime fiction novel, you can get away with this, but only in relation to the overall story. But for the rest of us? Well, let’s just say that we need to be more observant of when those eyes, legs, or hands are off on their own.

Really. This is very important. The parts of the body have to remain with the rest. They can’t take off and hold up the story.

Imagine, if you will, exactly how the reader is sitting there, staring at a passage that is pretty much “my eyes followed her along the street, gazing at her great beauty, walking around the corner…” Yeah, time to stop. Can you see a pair of eyeballs bouncing up and down on the sidewalk, following some poor woman as she peeks over her shoulder and tries to get away? That’s sure the picture I’m getting, and you can bet that if I’m getting that picture, the reader is too.

One can argue that we don’t like to repeat words. True, we don’t want to repeat a word too often. But for eyes, we can use look, gaze, see, and so many others that are available in your word processor’s thesaurus.

New authors aren’t the only ones guilty of this problem. Many well published authors fall back on the disembodied body part in order to make a point. From the feedback I’ve received from many readers, all you’ve done is add a horror element to your book. In fact, the normal reaction I get from these people is, “Gross!”

So, the next time you’re tempted to let a body part go off on its own, remember to actually visualize what you just wrote looks like to a reader. Yeah. Not so pretty. Time for a rewrite.


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