Have you ever paused while reading a story because the character’s body has suddenly taken on a life of its own? You know what I’m talking about: the rolling eyes and the wandering hands that no longer have an actual person controlling them. You probably find yourself with a comical image in your head, too.
As with passive voice, dangling modifiers, and simultaneous action, this phenomenon — known as autonomous, disembodied, or even animate body parts — is an issue of writing craft and remains my biggest pet peeve as an editor.
What are autonomous body parts?
A body part is “disembodied” when it acts independently of the character: “Her fist pounded on the door.” The sentient body part becomes the subject of the sentence and thus completes/does the action of the verb.
Why are they bad?
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