Her hand scraped along her wrist, leaving deep welts.
Her hand struggled to bring life to its sleeping partner.
Her hand clawed along the other, a sure tell she was guilty.
Any one of those sentences can explain what the picture illustrates, don’t you think? They’re active, colorful lines that could go in any manuscript where scratching a wrist is part of the action for whatever reason.
Well, you can write ’em in, but a good editor will ask you to take ’em out. Do you know why?
I didn’t. Not until recently when I learned about this in a three-part editing course. Oh, I marked things like this, but other than “that doesn’t sound right,” I couldn’t give the technical reason why they were wrong.
Now I can: that there’s a “floating body part.”
“Her wrist itched so badly, her hand scratched it.” The first part of the sentence is fine. A wrist can itch. Try as you might you can’t make that happen. It’s the “her hand scratched it” that’s off. Her hand detached itself from the rest of the body and, unbeknownst to the owner, scratched the wrist–it became a “floating body part,” or FBP for short.
I was surprised what all was marked as FBPs in the examples the instructor provided, but now I see ’em plain as day, regardless of how familiar some of them are:
Her hands flew to her lips
His head twisted to the right
His legs ran as fast as they could
Her eyes scoured the room
Her ears strained to hear
Then there’s the famous one from Twain: I “could have hung my hat on my eyes, they stuck out so far”–no, wait. That’s hyperbole.
Some aren’t as obvious unless you know what you’re looking for:
She heard boots walking on the floorboards
He saw a hand reaching for the door
Now, let me tell you this. Most of these things are so familiar, I probably wouldn’t mark them except as cliche. I doubt I’ll change what I do from my “that doesn’t sound right” days, when it struck me odd that a body part would just go off and do something independently and without the brain’s knowledge and approval.
His hand unlocked the door.
Her finger pointed to the defendant.
His feet tiptoed to the bedroom.
Just to let you know, I started this post at six a.m. I’m late, I’m not awake, I haven’t had enough coffee yet. If I were on my game, I could give you some of the most hilarious examples of FBPs known to man. As it is, I’m pretty groggy and wish my head and hands would just go on without me and finish this post. I wish my eyes could proofread this without waking me up. I wish my feet would carry me to the shower where my body could get clean without me missing another moment of sleep. Since none of that’s likely to happen, I want to direct you here, to Sarah Tipton’s parody of FBPs. I know most folks won’t go. They’ve taken time to read my post (and I want to say thank you for that–and not just my lips either. My whole being thanks you!), and don’t want to go chasing links. But let me tell you, you’ll be missing out on the biggest giggle of the day if you don’t. Take the time to have a laugh.
And keep an eye on the FBPs in your own work. Your editor may not be as kind as I am.