Floating Body parts-Oh No!

My title might confuse you. I’m not writing about a grisly crime, rather a common writing mistake. The first time an editor wrote floating body parts or FBP on my manuscript I had to ask for an explanation.

people face child eye

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A floating body part is when an attribute is given to a body part rather than the character.

This is one of the easiest traps to fall into. There are times it is used because it is a common idiom that everyone understands such as eyes rolled. Eyes don’t really roll but we all understand the meaning. We moved our eyes up then down to indicate disbelief or disgust. Often in our desire to create interesting scenes, we disconnect appendages.

An example: His eyes roamed her body. Really, his eyes walked across the room and walked all over her body. Only in a creepy thriller.

Instead: His gaze roamed her body.

You could show him watching her:

The swaying of her hips as she danced to the radio, made washing the dishing look sexy.

Let me give you a few more examples to consider.

close up photo of left hand

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  • Before she realized it, her hand reached up and slapped him.

We know her hand didn’t have a mind of its own. It wasn’t disconnected from her body. We know we use our hands to slap. Unless we are using our foot (martial arts) a board or other object, the word slap indicates the use of our hand.

Instead: She slapped him hard, all her politeness vanished with his foul accusations.

Can you give me another option for slap?

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  • Fingers tapped the table in a nervous cadence. Cool sentence right? Except the fingers are not attached to a body here.

Instead: Andrew tapped a nervous cadence on the table. Again, we can assume it is his fingers unless we want to add an object. Andrew tapped a nervous cadence with his pencil. We visualize the pencil between his fingers.

How would you rewrite the finger reference?

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  • Her foot kicked him.

What else do we kick with?  Kick is a foot action or in the case of a horse, hoof movement.

Instead: She kicked him hard in the chin.

Give me a sentence using kick.

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  • His eyes stared at the scene before him.

Were his eyes working independently of the character’s brain?  The word stare refers to eyes.

The same way tears only come from our eyes and screams from our mouths. You don’t need to refer to the body part with the action. She screamed for help. Tears streamed down her face. (This too is cliché and might need a rewrite as well.)

Instead: He stared at the scene before him.

You could make this line far more interesting.

He stared at the horrific destruction.

Want to try reworking this one using another word for stare?

Floating body parts are an easy habit to fall into. It takes my critique partners pointing out the independent appendages before I catch my error. Best-selling authors may get away with floating body parts that are common clichés such as eyes rolled, arms fly up, and feet flew. But you want to work hard at avoiding them as much as possible. The better you get at description the less likely you will have floating body parts, unless you’re writing a crime drama. 😊

If you want to share with us how you rewrote the sentence examples or share a few of your own, please add them to the comments.