Thursday, October 15, 2009

Floating Body Parts?

First, a note about good customer service, since I complain when it's sub-standard.

I had a hardware failure with my e-book reader. Given that I'm out of the country it's a bit of a bother, since I don't have access to my normal library of reading materials. I emailed their help desk, and within hours got a return message saying they would ship me a brand new unit. It won't do me a lot of good here, but I think that in the upcoming world of e-readers, it's critical that the companies provide good service should things go wrong. Having trouble with a reader isn't the same as losing a paperback. So, kudos to eBookwise and their technical support team.

And yesterday's weather was cold and windy, but sunny, so I took a city tour.

On to the floating body part discussion.

Keep Reading...

Do the eyes have it?

How do you react when you read things like this:

Their eyes met from across the room.

His eyes raked her body from head to toe.

There seem to be two schools of thought on this one. I'm on the side that doesn't mind. I understand that 'eye' can be used as a noun or a verb. "He eyed her" is acceptable. "He gave her the eye" is an idiom I have no trouble with. I don't see him extracting an eyeball and handing it to her. So if a characters eyes move, I don't get visions of eyeballs floating free.

Which side are you on? Would the following pull you out of the story?

Her blue eyes, enlarged by her wire-rimmed glasses, rambled from Colleen's head to her toes.

"What's wrong with my face?" Her fingers flew to her cheeks, and she pulled them away, studying them.

Yet there are those for whom those would be book-tossing offenses. Me, I see the eye movement in the first example, but the eyes remain firmly set in their sockets. In the second, my brain assumes the fingers are still attached to the hand, and I don't think about body parts floating in space.

If we took everything we read literally, a lot of the richness of the language would be lost. If his eyes are pools of molten chocolate, do we really think that he's got Godiva eyeballs? Or just deep brown eyes?

(That's a metaphor, I think – if his eyes look like pools of molten chocolate, that would be a simile, right?) I've never been good at remembering terminology. Metaphors, similes, idioms, hyperbole—they're things I use, but I don't worry about what they're called when I'm writing them.

At any rate, my editor says it's a house 'rule' to avoid using floating body parts. Apparently they want to avoid having books thrown across the room by readers in the 'I see eyeballs' group. I'm guessing they figure that those who don't mind won't notice. For me, however, substituting 'gaze' for 'eyes' in those situations gets tedious and repetitive. Which means I don't feel comfortable with a simple swap, and end up trying to rewrite the entire passage.

Chime in – what's your preference? Which group are you in?


Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

Glad you had a good experience with the e-reader replacement. I haven't committed to a reader yet, so this is good to hear.

Floating body parts don't bother me at all, but BOY they bother my editors! :)

Mystery Writing is Murder

Terry Odell said...

Elizabeth - yeah, it's those sorts of 'differences of opinion' that can get frustrating during edits. You wonder what the rationale is -- is it because it's a personal opinion, or because it's a marketing thing, or a house rule.

I can see that if there's a significant number of readers who are on the 'anti' side, it could affect future sales ... but this one doesn't seem cut and dried to me. I know we're not the only two who don't "see" body parts moving around. Figure of speech?

Carol Kilgore said...

I don't mind reading floating body parts, but I try not to write them. One of my critique partners finds them all when I do.

Sam said...

One of my pet peeves is... that people get peeved over this literary device. It's called "metonymy," and it's as old as literature. Homer, Ovid, and Shakespeare all used it. If Marc Antony can ask his countrymen to "lend me your ears," then "Her blue eyes" can ramble all over Colleen all they want.

Your second example is different. "[S]he pulled them away" could be read as referring to her cheeks, rather than her fingers. Unless I read the sentence in a horror novel, it would bother me.

Terry Odell said...

Thanks, Sam -- and yeah, I have trouble with modifiers sometimes. Once I created an answering machine that gave neck massages. I don't mind (in fact, I appreciate) editorial fixes to things like that, since it's a matter of grammar.

And you've given me yet another label to get mixed up.

Elena said...

I am very visual which is a mixed blessing for a writer, but a lot of fun as a reader. I always see the eyeballs floating, as well as any other errant body parts. And it makes me laugh. Yesterday I read about a sweet young thing whose surgery was performed in a snow storm. I laughed till I got to visualizing the mass of extension cords required, and then I doubled over.

But then even the fake words we have to enter to write a comment can make me giggle. Right now I'm looking at "ferts". It's begging for a definition.

Terry Odell said...

Elena - sometimes I'll leave a comment on a blog just because the spam work is so 'clever'. Even randomly generated groups of letters can come out with hidden meanings sometimes.

Sheila Deeth said...

I'm usually okay with floating body parts, so maybe it's just that it's October, but I visualized her pulling her cheeks off with her fingers. Very gruesome.