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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.

Example:
"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,
Molly

Comments

two_12
Aug. 13th, 2004 09:38 am (UTC)
yes & no
I agree that it's a bit of nit-picking, but that's usually what a pet peeve is. I think most writing styles are a matter of balance. Anything can be over done. Or underdone.

And your examples at the end are both fine, but actually quite different. I don't think the "action" method is better than the "voice in the head" method. They both give information that the other doesn't. The first example doesn't tell us that she is probably nervous rather than angry; the second example doesn't tell us what she is nervous about, what she is thinking, or whether she is just indecisive. Granted, those are both just snippets and there would be clues in the rest of the passage. It depends on what you, the author, want us to know. But my point is either can work.
mollyringle
Aug. 13th, 2004 10:07 am (UTC)
Re: yes & no
Yeah, I suppose it's no use getting on anyone's case for a "pet peeve," since we all have them. As you say, anything can be overdone or underdone.

I didn't really think that passage through. :) But I presume the context and characterization up to that point would make it clear which way she felt. If not, something needs to be fixed a lot earlier than this scene.
two_12
Aug. 13th, 2004 10:08 am (UTC)
Re: yes & no
But I presume the context and characterization up to that point would make it clear which way she felt. If not, something needs to be fixed a lot earlier than this scene.

true that.