FBPs—THE UFOs OF WRITING
“I have offended God and mankind because my work didn’t reach the quality
it should have.”
–Leonardo Da Vinci
There has been a feud going on in the publishing/editing world, and it’s not fought with iron, bullets, or steel. It’s a dispute about whether or not to allow floating body parts in Christian fiction books. There are those who are FBP purists, who think it is best not to use them at all, while others believe it is okay to use them sparingly.
An FBP is often referred to as a “disembodied body part” which acts on its own, separate from the rest of the body.
When I was a teenager, I heard a stand-up comedian talk about these in his set. I’ll never forget them, and they are a great example of FBPs.
- I saw a pretty blonde across the room. She rolled her big, brown eyes at me. So I picked them up and rolled them right back to her.
- My girlfriend and I went for a drive along the ocean in my red, convertible Corvette. Her long, brunette hair blew in the wind. She made me go back and pick it up.
These are extreme examples of how a simple statement can be misinterpreted to mean something else entirely. In one of my editing fiction classes, I talked about how many authors in recent years try hard to not say “looked” and opt for “gaze” instead. Now “gaze” has become an overused word. In an attempt to be clever with their character’s actions you’ll find statements like these:
- Her eyes flew around the room and rested on his handsome face.
- His eyes cruised the room, looking for Annie.
We could debate all day long as to whether or not the reader actually understands what the writer is trying to say and simply ignores it or if they laugh when they read these types of statements. As an editor, I can bring FBPs to the author’s attention and explain how these literally can be translated into a person’s eyes coming away from the body and acting on their own as living entities. In the end, it will be up to the author to leave them alone or change them. If they find a traditional publisher, the line editor may ask them to change some of the FBPs.
It is my personal opinion that an author has unlimited words available to them in the dictionary and thesaurus, and we can use them to write in such a way as to not leave any doubt. I believe leaving most of these out of the story actually enriches it and elevates the writing to a higher level.
Here are some of the more well-known FBPs you’ll find in fiction.
- She threw up her hands. (My response: she shouldn’t have swallowed her hands in the first place.)
- Her hands flew to her mouth. (My response: did they have wings or take a tiny jet to get there?)
- Her feet trudged up the sidewalk. (Where was she when this happened? What did they do when they got to the door? Feet don’t have hands, so they certainly couldn’t have opened the door by themselves.)
- She was beside herself with laughter. (Yikes! Conjoined twins?)
- He nearly crawled out of his skin with fear. (Did his birthday suit have a zipper in the back to make it easier to put on and take off?)
- A sigh of relief escaped Missy. (Yikes! Was she holding it hostage?)
Now let’s see if these can be made better.
- She raised her hands in surrender.
- She cupped her hands over her mouth, unable to believe what she’d just heard.
- Jane trudged up the sidewalk as if she’d just lost her best friend.
- Emma laughed until she her breath came in huge gulps.
- Jack stepped into the shadows, holding his breath. His heart pounded in his temples. Sweat formed behind his neck. The footsteps behind him grew louder.
- Missy sighed, comforted that she’d finished the test in the allotted time.
I realize there are some FBPs that simply cannot be reworded such as these:
- She shook her head.
- She rolled her eyes.
- Her heart sunk.
You may not have a problem with FBPs. That’s okay, but keep an open mind and write them sparingly. It may be that you unwittingly use them so often, it detracts from the story. If they bother you as an author, they’ll certainly bother your readers, and the reader is most important person in the writing equation.
I am reminded of an episode of Andy Griffith when Andy was trying to teach a lesson to Opie. I can’t recall exactly what the lesson was, but Andy gave Opie a statistic about how 2 ½ boys in America did such and such.
Opie asks, “Which half of the boy?”
“Forget about the half boy. That’s not what’s important here.”
“It’s kind of hard to forget half a boy, Pa.”
“It’s not an actual boy. It’s a ratio.”
I know this isn’t an actual FBP, but it shows how people can take their understanding of a simple word or phrase to an outrageous conclusion.
The cure for FBPs. . . annihilate them! Write better than that every time you sit down at the computer. Your readers will love you for it!