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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 09:53 am (UTC)
I tend to favor "cinematic" details; however, I also notice that often times people use them without purpose - "When he looked up at her, brown eyes draped under lashes, she unconciously felt her hand pull to her mouth. Her fingers covered a slight smile as she silently pondered what it would be like to kiss him. Her mouth twitched against his phantom lips.

'Oh damn! I am sorry I uspet you so,' he said, his voice softer than fresh linen.

She shook her head and turned away, her shoulders quaking with childish giggles. Suddenly his hands were resting placidly on her neck. 'I didn't mean to make you cry. I never knew that calling off my wedding would upset my best friend so much.'

She covered her face with her hands, hoping that he wouldn't see the absolute pleasure in her eyes."

That scene, crap to begin with, is overwrought with physical details. People often use such "tricks" to try to fool the reader into thinking a work is better than its theme allows.

But, I am also a picky editor who often takes out such details when I feel they scream pointless filler or "you are trying way too hard, Kim."
Aug. 13th, 2004 10:09 am (UTC)
*giggles at "softer than fresh linen"*
Good advertising copy. :)

Indeed, it's important to develop a good filter when editing one's own stuff (or anyone else's for that matter). The unnecessary details tend to jump out at you after a little practice, and they can be either physical descriptions or interior monologue. I guess bad writing is like porn: hard to describe in exact terms, but you know it when you see it. Which is why I found it overly simplistic for them to say they didn't like it when writers move their characters' limbs. I mean, honestly. We'll have to at some point!