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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 11:42 am (UTC)
Sometimes such tactics can be kinda silly: "Her eyes wandered around the room." Oh dear, better go catch them! In that case, it would be better say "her gaze", which, unlike eyes, can wander.

There used to be a website for a group of gals calling themselves the Wicked X Witches, and they'd tear apart sub-par XF fanfic in nasty and spiteful ways. I loved them. But one of their biggest complaints was when people used this kind of language to describe actions of body parts or inanimate objects. To the point where I thought, "Geeze, how *are* you supposed to express that?"

Meh. To each their own, eh?
Aug. 13th, 2004 04:25 pm (UTC)
Hehe - yeah, I see your point in the "eyes/gaze" thing. But if you use the word "gaze" too many times, as with most words, it starts grating on the nerves. Thus I like to vary it with "eyes." Besides, since when were we not allowed to use figurative language? Must everything we write be literally true? :)