Sunday, 12 June 2011

Flying Body Parts

There’s a lot being said today about flying body parts. Before you turn aside in dismay, let me assure you I'm thinking in literary terms. For example, how many times have you read the sentence ‘her eyes flew to the door’ or ‘her hand flew to her throat’?
They're both classed as culprits.

Yet the phrases are so popular they could be challenged as clich├ęs. We all know what they mean and we pick up all the nuances of fear and surprise that the author intends. Why, then, are so many editors, authors and critique partners busy telling each other that her eyes didn’t really fly to the door, did they? Suggest re-word the sentence.

Is it because readers are so literal-minded these days? If I write ‘her eyes turned to the door’ is that acceptable? It may be, but it is also unexciting. There’s no implied urgency, no feeling of any kind; the sentence is bland. If I write her eyes turned fearfully to the door, is that going to bring the criticism that eyes can’t turn fearfully? They can’t turn in fear, either, but isn’t all this a bit unnecessary? if the reader will understand, what's wrong with bringing a bit of creativity to our writing?

An idiom is, according to the dictionary, a group of words established by usage and having a meaning not deducible from those of the individual words. Such as: over the moon, see the light, kick the bucket, lay one’s cards on the table. Are these expressions classed as idioms? They’re very close to it. Certainly they meet the first part of the definition. But we can deduce what is happening when we say her glance flew across the room, so perhaps these aren’t idioms, but merely idiomatic use of language. If such a subtle distinction exists!

Perhaps it comes down to all things in moderation. I read a sentence once that claimed a young lady tossed her chin over her shoulder. Another claimed that her two legs took her down the street. Now I know what the authors intended, but it was a clumsy way of expressing it. Some expressions work, and others don’t. In trying for originality, laudable in itself, it is easy to come up with an expression that may well make readers splutter and giggle.
So if your flying body part has been tried and tested down the years, if it works, then use it. If it doesn’t abandon it. It would be a shame if we became constrained in our use of such a rich, multi-faceted language.

No comments: