Today’s entry for Teaching Tuesday is going to be more show than tell, because, well…the examples are what really make this common writing misstep obvious. I’m talking about WaBops aka Wandering Body Parts, Autonomous Body Parts or Dismembered Body Parts. All different terms that refer to the same thing–you have body parts doing things they can’t possibly do (unless you’re writing a paranormal or a horror) and body parts doing things autonomously of the body they belong to.
Some fun examples, compliments of those who wish to remain anonymous (they don’t want you to know they actually came up with these examples).
As her eyes moved around the room, they landed on a pair or muscular thighs that made her mouth water.
His hands tangled themselves in her hair, loving the softness of the blonde strands. The hands tugged slightly, pulling her head back until his lips could reach hers for a kiss.
Her eyes bounced from face to face, seeking the man with the pink rose. He’d said he’d meet her here. Finally, they landed on a tall man in cowboy hat, and her heart ran away in her chest. Her eyes swept him from hat to boots, and liked what they saw.
Shannon’s hands crept up to her face as her eyes started shedding tears.
Her eyes were glued to his face.
Can you spot the wandering body parts? Here’s the thing. Eyes are corporeal, they can’t dance, move around the room, bounce, or be glued to something. You can’t “pass your eyes” to someone, “lock eyes” with them, “shoot sparks” (or my favorite, her eyes shot at him. It always makes me want to yell DUCK!) or other fun descriptors. Your eyes can’t do that and even writing it in fiction doesn’t make it so. By writing like this, you stand the risk of giving your reader a visual you really didn’t mean to give them, pulling them from the story–and making them laugh when you haven’t written a comedy. One easy fix is to substitute gaze for eyes. Because your gaze is noncorporeal, therefore it can do things your eyes can’t, because gaze isn’t dependent on the body it’s in. If you don’t want to keep using gaze, then rewrite the sentence, but don’t think you’re the exception to the rule and that your character’s eyes really can devour the hero’s delicious abs. Just. Can’t. Happen.
In the examples above, there are also some body parts doing other impossible things (her heart ran away in her chest?) but there are also body parts working autonomously of the body they’re attached to. This is common in romance writing, most specifically during the sex scenes. His hands tangled themselves in her hair, loving the softness of the blonde strands. The hands tugged slightly, pulling her head back until his lips could reach hers for a kiss. At this point, I’m always so impressed *grin* Wow! His hands did all that all on their own? What was he doing? Going for coffee and cookies? As I said, sex scenes are the worst offenders, with body parts acting autonomously all over the place and making the reader wonder just what the host body is doing while the body parts are getting it on.
Not only does making your body parts autonomous lend a slightly ridiculous quality to the story (I commented to one author the other day that a particular sentence–I couldn’t find it or I’d have quoted it here, lol–brought to mind images of Thing from The Adamm’s Family–really an unfortunate image in the midst of a lovely story)–not only do they bring to mind odd mental pictures, but they can also create a sense of detachment in a love scene. Because instead of giving the actions and the emotions to a person/the characters, you’ve given them to the individual body parts, which can make the love scene seem uncohesive and as not really belonging to the characters, because they’re not doing the actions, their body parts are.
Example: His thigh insinuated itself between her legs and pressed against her pussy. As his hands crept up her back and around to unbutton her shirt, her tongue snaked out and licked her lips. Her body gave a shiver and moaned. How could this man’s hands make her feel so delicious? Her body craved more. Her pussy wept for his cock as the large, thick staff leapt to attention behind his zipper.
Extreme example but I’ve seen this done. Look at all those body parts doing and feeling things. Where are the emotions and the actions of the characters themselves? All we’ve seen are a bunch of independent body parts doing weird things. There’s no depth, no connection and certainly no real sexiness to it.
Rewritten: He rubbed his thigh against hers, moving it up inch by inch until he pressed against her pussy, creating a delicious friction. As he moved his hands over her back and around to unbutton her shirt one torturous button at a time, she licked her lips and shivered. How was it possible that Jebediah could conjure such amazing feelings in her body? She craved more and her pussy clenched from her desperate need to feel him inside, to feel him plunge his thick cock into her.
Now, this talk of not writing autonomous body parts and giving the action TO the person, not the parts, isn’t meant that you can’t ever do it (many, many “rules” aren’t absolute, they depend on how well you can pull it off is all!) and that you always have to give the action to the person but the point is to be aware of what you’re writing, the visuals you’re creating and how connected you’ve made the scene. And to make sure no eyes are darting around the room.