His hands reached out, eager to caress and stroke, searching for the tempting warmth and the silk of his lover’s smooth skin.
Sounds good, huh? Yeah, well, we’ll see about that. We all know what this lucky guy feels as his hands reach out to do their thing. Anticipation and longing. Lust, possibly. We experience his thoughts transmitted by the action of his hands and we all understand what it means. And yet, what they’re doing is wrong—so, so wrong.
If you read this, chances are that you’re either a passionate reader, maybe an author or—uh-oh—an editor (Hey, if you’re an editor I’ve worked with: My tongue is firmly in my cheek during this post).
Anyway, you probably already know that in publishing circles, hands that reach out on their own, eyes that make contact across the room, and even eager cocks that yearn for release, or in short, body parts that act independently, are frowned upon, to say the least. Often they’re downright forbidden.
But why? Seriously, why?
I’ve been through enough edits with capable editors to have had the use of independent body parts (almost) drilled out of me. It’s rare these days that my addled writer’s brain absently lapses back and tells my fingers to type such a sentence in a WIP (needless to say that such fatal errors are removed as soon as my eyes pick them up). When I come across such a phrase in one of my book that’s already published, my cheeks flush with embarrassment.
Naturally, the way I read other author’s books since I’ve delved into the colourful world of editorial comment boxes has changed. Often I inadvertently find myself reading copy, which kinda spoils the experience, but that’s a topic for another day. I started reading this book. It came highly recommended on Goodreads. Hmm. Readers seem to love it but for me it wasn’t exactly love at first sight, which had mostly to do with the story line. That aside, I soon realised that there appears to be something odd with the editing and yes, I started reading copy, so I put the book away for a couple of days and didn’t pick it up again until today, when I was desperate for just something to read—and boy, I was in for a surprise.
...His shoulders dropped for a second and then tensed...My nails dug in my thigh…I laughed as his brows curled in confusion…he drawled, blank eyes casually checking me out...
These are just a few examples from the couple of pages I managed to read before my break was over. Those are phrases that I very well could have written not so long ago, but that probably wouldn’t have made it past the grammar police. And rightly so, I would have said until not so long ago, because I tended to agree that body parts shouldn’t be allowed to do things independently. Imagine what could happen if they did:
I’m sorry, officer, but you can’t blame me for speeding because, you see, it was actually my foot that pressed the pedal down.
Oh, no, I didn’t slap that cheating bastard of a husband. That was just my hand.
ButI didn’t kiss that other woman, darling. It was my mouth that couldn’t resist to taste her lips.
Also, quite frequently, if read literally, independent body parts can make for somewhat, uh, unsavoury images.
His eyes crossed the room.
Eyes are one of my own favourites, as my lovely editors can confirm, lol, so here’s another:
He dropped his eyes to the floor. (No, really - eouw!)
Another good one is His voice said. Yes, I used that. The comment it earned me was: “His voice doesn’t say anything, he does.” Yes, I know. But it sounded good at the moment I wrote it, and as every writer knows, eventually you reach a point where you’re so desperate for some variation of this and that, he said or he sounded whatever that you’re willing to make voices say some stuff, too. Just like you become tired of he reached out to whatever, He put his hand on her thigh, They pressed their lips together, He breached the tightly sealed muscle with his finger and consider just letting his darned hand reach out or rest on her thigh, let their lips press together or even allow his finger to breach that unwilling muscle.
And why not? Our bodies do stuff on their own all the time, don’t they? Or when was the last time you had to tell your lungs to snatch a breath? Or your heart to keep pumping blood through your veins? Can’t remember, can you?
So why do our heroes (and heroines, for those who write female characters) have to always be in full control of every single one of their body parts? Why can’t they ever simply lean back and enjoy the ride their own lustful bodies take them for?
Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying independent body parts should be used liberally, and you should always keep an eye on what the sentence means if read literally, but come on – those phrases make for a nice change and most readers (myself included) won’t even notice this when they’re absorbed in a story. It’s only when the story itself is crap that our minds drift off to analyse the writing.
Having said that, here’s one I’d veto: Retrieving my wallet from my discarded khakis, my eyes widened. Yeah, careful with that, because when eyes are taking wallets from khakis they’re really going a bit too far. Next they'll snatch your credit card and go shopping for mascara and eye shadow.
Books can teach us lessons, and the lesson I have learned from this book, is that even if understood literally, or technically incorrect, independent body parts can make for an entertaining, vivid read if you allow yourself to switch off your brain, sit back and enjoy the ride an author takes you for. I’m certainly grateful for the lesson this book and its author have taught me and look forward to reading the next 300 or so pages of it.
And, if you think about it, how do we perceive other people’s actions? Do we see them reach out their hand or do we see their hand reach out?