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Bitchy writing complaint

People on a writing-related email list were asked to give their pet peeves about writing styles. While most of the answers have been amusing and valid (in my view), one person brought up what he called "the puppeteer syndrome," wherein the writer moves the character's body parts as a frequent device. A couple others chimed in to agree. The examples they gave were things like these:

She threw her arms around him.
She dropped her eyes.
He rolled his head along her shoulder.
He took her head in his hands.
He lifted his arms and put his hands behind his head.

Um...are those so terrible? Not to be a dunce, but: what are we supposed to say when people raise their arms, their eyes; let their heads fall back, etc.? I'm feeling defensive, since I do write things like "dropped her gaze," "threw her arms around him," "tore his eyes away," etc. I don't think I OVER-do it--I can see how that would be distracting!--but to use verbs like "put" or "moved" would be so boring. ("She put her arms around him"--gee, she sounds excited.)

Besides, I've actually been complimented for having a "cinematic" style--i.e., I describe how people are moving, so you can see their gestures and interpret their feelings through those, rather than using the lazier option of just narrating their thoughts.

"Why was he acting this way?, she wondered. Should she follow him? Should she stay? Should she even attempt to speak to him? Oh, why were men so confusing?"

--That could be said much better by having her take a step toward him, stop, put her hand on a chair, shut her mouth, and turn away again. But maybe that's just me...

Ever the puppetmaster,


Aug. 13th, 2004 09:10 am (UTC)
Uhh, I was trying to turn my caps lock off and somehow submitted that comment. I am a dork.

I was saying, authors who pick one habitual gesture and have their character do it fifty times in a book are annoying, too. But I'm too embarrassed to expound anymore. I'll come back when I learn to use my keyboard.
Aug. 13th, 2004 10:04 am (UTC)
Hehe...don't worry about it. It's much better than the time I flipped over my mouse to clean it, and accidentally sent a blank email to 200 people.

Anyway--absolutely, I hate it when an author decides "What character X does is tug her earring when she's vexed," and then has her do it every scene she's in. Get a new schtick, already.

And yeah, you're right: listing movements like a blow-by-blow sequence of choreography isn't inspiring either. They should have specified overdoing it, rather than just saying "I hate when people make their characters' limbs move!"
Aug. 14th, 2004 12:05 am (UTC)
I flipped over my mouse to clean it, and accidentally sent a blank email to 200 people.

Okay, I know it has nothing to do with the thread, but y'all have just made my night.

Could be worse, though. You *could* have sent a very private and suggestive email, meant for a boyfriend, to a TV-fandom mailing list of nearly 1,000 people, by clicking the wrong "nickname" in your email address book. (And no, thank heaven, I didn't do this, but I was on the mailing list in question and enjoyed the subsequent hilarity.)

Thanks for the laugh--I really needed it!
Aug. 16th, 2004 08:57 pm (UTC)
Hehehe! OK, yeah, that'd be a lot worse. I dread I'll do something like that one day. Maybe send a slash link to my boss or something. *shudder*