Tactical Tuesday: Advice for Self-Editing

When you look at this picture, what do you see? Do you see a picture of a beautiful, but shy, younger woman or do you see the old hag-like woman?

Sometimes the words in the sentences we write are similar to this illusion. The writer may mean something totally different, but the reader’s mind paints another picture. Same words; different mindset.

For example: The man’s eyes remained fixed on the table.

Clearly, the author did not mean to paint the picture of a man’s eyes laying on the table, but some readers will see that image clearly. Other readers will gloss right over it and realize that the man was staring at the table.

So, in order to avoid painting the wrong picture in a reader’s mind, the words should be chosen carefully. The man’s gaze remained fixed on the table shows a much clearer picture.

Most often, the wrong picture is painted in words when an author has a character's body part doing something alone. This error has been dubbed the use of "floating body parts." For example: His hand reached out and grabbed her.

Now, I once saw a terrifying movie about a man's hand that had been cut off and it sought revenged on its own, but most often this is not what an author intends. The better form of the sentence is to allow the person to do the action. The reader will know that he grabbed her with his hand: He reached out and grabbed her.

If an author keeps in mind that a body part can do nothing without the person it is attached to, these funny or sometimes horrifying word pictures can be eliminated from prose.

Do you have any examples you’d like to share? Feel free to do so. Doing so, will help other authors to realize that the picture they wish to paint with their words isn’t the picture the reader might see.
Happy editing.


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