Common Errors in Fiction Manuscripts, Part 2

Redundant detail in describing body parts, and attributing action

There seems to be a preoccupation among writers to describe the colour of eyes. Perhaps this is because eyes play such an essential role in communication for the sighted. In crafting a story, however, it’s crucial to ask oneself if this information is necessary to the advancement of the plot, or to the development of character.

I think if you answer that constant query honestly, you’ll find the fact your character has exotic grey or green eyes is mostly irrelevant to how they manage to defeat The Big Bad, or win the affection of The Goddess of Light.
And while we’re on the topic of eye colour, there are a disproportionate number of fictional characters running around with grey, violet or green eyes. Or people who have gold flecks and green rims in their irises. What happened to plain old blue eyes, or muddy brown? Or — radical thought here — unless the eye colour of the character is integral to the plot, what about allowing your reader to engage their imagination and decide eye colour for themselves?
And then there is the common mistake of body parts disconnecting and taking action. Too often I’ve read a sentence like:
“His eyes followed her across the room.”
Whenever I’m editing a manuscript with a similar phrase, I insert this comment: “What? His eyes jumped out of their sockets and rolled across the floor at her heels?”
May sound harsh, but eyes cannot follow anyone or anything. A gaze can. A gaze is not a body part.
I also see sentences such as:
“His blackened teeth smiled at her.”
Quite aside from oral disease, this fellow’s teeth, like his cousins the eyes, did not just decide to flash a smile. The owner of those teeth smiled. The teeth did not.
Or:
“His hand pointed listlessly at the painting.”
The hand is not listless. And the hand by itself does not point. The owner of that hand is listless, and the owner points.
Comments? Questions? We’d love to hear from you.

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