“Wandering” body parts?

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Have your beta readers complained of “wandering” body parts in your manuscript? Do you have brows that furrow, eyes that dart, lips that purse, and legs walking independently of bodies? I’ve heard this complaint more and more lately, and it makes me wonder when and how the “rule” came to be that characters are always “in charge” of their bodies. What if they’re not? Are you?

More interestingly, what does it show when movement and expression happen on their accord?

In case you’re not sure what I’m talking about, here’s an example:

Character in charge: “Julia furrowed her brow.”
Wandering body part: “Her brow furrowed.”

The second example has fewer words, is more direct, and shows us that Julia’s reaction is compulsive, instinctual – not deliberate, forced, or contrived. (And wouldn’t you agree that most, if not all, of our nonverbal behaviors are not deliberate?) She’s not acting; she’s reacting. Naturally.

Does this bother readers? Contemporary readers who typically seek quick movement and fast reading? I don’t think so… Why does it bother your critique group, then?

In advising the authors who have asked me this question, I tell them this: Nobody cares. It does not matter. What does matter is that your syntax flows well, your characters respond in ways that feel natural, and you’re weaving originality and impact as you show.

Writers, what do you think? Are you “guilty” of wandering body parts? I’d love to hear from you.

Happy writing, y’all!
xo -MJ

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One Comment on ““Wandering” body parts?”

  1. Gfrow

    One’s implicit and the other explicit.

    I don’t think one is right over the other.

    I think it depends on what you want to convey…rather, what your character would feel/experience or do.

    Then again, I’m a terrible writer…

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