Since my body parts are traveling today, and I recently read a blog with a very black and white view on how to deal with body parts, I thought I'd reprise this 2009 blog post. I don't have trouble with figures of speech, and if I'm reading that a character 'flew down the block to John's house' I don't see her mid-air. If someone writes "a lump of ice settled in her belly" I'm not seeing actual ice.
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 said 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?
Tomorrow, my guest is Cricket McRae who's talking about the Jessica Fletcher Syndrome. And I hope all my body parts will be home again.