Skip to main content

Moving Body Parts

Hello my dearies. I'm greeting you on behalf of my cousin, The Style Maven. And in case you're wondering, I'm not her, pretending to be someone else. Rather, I'm her snarky cousin in charge of policing errant body parts - eyes and other parts that are sometimes asked to do things that...well, seem to be a bit of a challenge, to put it politely. Not so politely, I'd say to the writers, "What the hell were you thinking?"

So, before I totter off to lunch with my bingo friends, let me set forth a few of the most irritating things I stumble over whilst trying to enjoy a good story.

Let's start with eyes. How many times do you see them rolling when they shouldn't roll? I cringe when I see them struggling to do the bidding of an author. You could say I'm super sensitive to this and should take an allergy pill before opening the next book I hope to enjoy, but why should the onus be on me, the reader?

Really, my darlings, consider from whence my sensitivity arises. I once had a writing instructor who, after reading a scene from my story, mimed taking his eyes out of his head and rolling them across the floor like a pair of dice.

Boy, did that make an impression.

If I could, I'd demonstrate for you, but, alas, I'm stuck on the other side of this screen and cannot get out. You will just have to use your imagination as you read the following examples. The sources, or the writers, will not be named, but I will name you if eyes roll in your latest masterpiece.

"She rolled her eyes out the side window of the car."

Oh dear! That could be quite a disaster.Thank goodness she wasn't driving, but, still, she may have lost her eyes forever. Even if they stopped to look for them, imagine how hard it would be to find two little eyeballs in the high grass along the side of road.

"His eyes rolled up the building."

Gosh, they must have defied gravity don't you think? Then did the eyes stay there or roll back to him? Obviously, they did because in the same scene, same paragraph:

"His eyes drifted up to the window."

Oh. I pictured two little eyeballs nestled on the back of Tinker Bell who floated heavenward with her gossamer wings beating slowly and magical, taking the eyes to the proper window. And then what did they do? Did they open the window and roll into the room, or did Tinker Bell bring them back?

There was only one conclusion to be made from reading that. The author believed that those eyes could do lots of strange things.

So, my dear ones, the next time you are writing and you want a character to show disdain for another person, perhaps you would consider something else besides eyes that leave your characters head. Something more unique. Something that wouldn't make one toss your book across the room along with those rolling eyes.

Oops, my doorbell just rang. It's my bingo partner, Betsy. Come to carry me off in her chariot. Ta, ta for now, and try to keep track of your eyes.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Well, it seems like the cousin ran off before getting her post up. Thank goodness Maryann saw it languishing in the draft queue and was able to make it live.

Maryann Miller - novelist, editor and sometimes actress. She won her first writing award at age twelve with a short story in the Detroit News Scholastic Writing Awards Contest and continues to garner recognition for her short stories, books, and screenplays. You can find out more about Maryann, her books, and her editing services on her Website and her Amazon Author Page  read her  Blog  and follow her on Facebook and Twitter.


  1. Love it! Love it! Love it! Welcome, Style Maven's snarky cousin. Sure glad Maryann rescued your post from the queue and resuscitated it. It's a humdinger (and a reminder of a line in my novel that needs a little tweak). One last word: the eyes have it! :-)

  2. This sounds like my editor who worries constantly about a character's body parts acting independently. I've learned not to do that, especially the one about dropping eyes to the ground (where they could easily get stepped on) or throwing one's arms in the air. Thanks for a fun post!

    1. You're welcome, Pat. Like the snarky cousin, these errant body parts bother me, too. Perhaps I'm reading too literally, but I shudder at rolling eyes and shrugging shoulders. What else would a person shrug?

  3. Okay, help me out here. I always get hung up on this one. While I wouldn't want my eyes roaming around the room or dropping to the floor, "rolling" one's eyes is the only description I know for the facial gesture of looking upward then to the side (so the eyeballs appear to be rolling inside their sockets) to express a silent reaction. If I said someone "rolled their eyes at my suggestion", wouldn't the reader assume I meant that facial gesture rather than the rolling dice?

    1. LD, I think many readers will get it when you write that a character rolled her eyes at your suggestion. And I think that particular "rolling eye" is not as much of a problem as the eyes rolling out the window or up the building. A person's gaze can move out the window or up the building.

      After the demonstration of someone pretending to roll their eyes like dice, I would even try to find a different way to show that silent expression of disdain or disbelief. As authors, we often rely on the ordinary, when sometimes we can find something so unique to show the same thing. I see characters rolling their eyes all the time in books and it has become so common it is almost a cliche.

      Hope this helps.

    2. Maryann, maybe if I can come up with a different name for that particular action/expression, it will catch on and I'll be a trendsetter.

    3. Speaking of clichés, I use the eye-rolling in my post that's scheduled for the end of the month. It is a cliché, along with a few others. Tune in.

  4. I realized I used some of those doozies. So I go through my manuscript with search and find and replace "eyes" with "gaze" or just rewrite the body language to avoid eyes altogether.

    1. As I tell new writers when I am working with them, we all write the first thing that comes to mind in that first draft. That's why Ann Lamott calls them "shitty first drafts." They are full of cliches and overused phrases and strangely moving body parts because that is what we are familiar with. The challenge for writers is to go through that first draft and edit all those weak places. Eyes and gazes are the hardest to work with, and I, too, often rewrite the body language. If we work really hard and come up with something unique, we may make a reader smile. :-)

  5. I love this post. As I mention above, my post coming up is full of what I consider clichés where body parts do rather strange things. I just finished a book that was ruined by clichés and repetitive actions, many having to do with breaths. I almost didn't finish it. A writer does have to be careful that her book isn't full of gazes, however. As Diana said, find other ways of saying something or forget the eyes.


Post a Comment

The Blood-Red Pencil is a blog focusing on editing and writing advice. If a glitch is preventing you from commenting, visit our Facebook page and drop your wise words there: Blood-Red Pencil on Facebook