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The Flying Body Parts Fallacy #writers #writing #rulesofwriting #flyingbodyparts » Jolana Malkston
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Sep 212016

During an open critique session, the facilitators discussed those much maligned creatures known as the flying body parts, aka the wandering body parts and the animated body parts. They mocked them, giving humorous examples, and everyone laughed on cue.

I felt so sorry for those poor body parts. What have they ever done to invite such vilification? From my perspective, the obsession of so many writers and writing instructors aimed at preventing the use of common idioms and figures of speech is the equivalent of putting a straight jacket on the imagination of writers everywhere.


I blame it all on Philip K. Dick and his whimsical short satire titled The Eyes Have It. My theory is that a very no-nonsense writer or editor, who perhaps had a tenuous grasp of satire, actually took Dick’s send up seriously. Dick tells his tale from the point of view of a reader who takes a story’s idioms literally. He misinterprets commonly used idioms as actually meaning the body parts mentioned are detachable and therefore the story’s characters must belong to an invading alien race capable of disassembling its bodies.

The aforementioned humorless writer/editor must have taken The Eyes Have It so seriously that he/she began to spread the suspect Clarity in Writing Gospel of No Flying Body Parts Ever. Most writers never questioned its validity and followed it off the Clarity in Writing Cliff like literary lemmings, drowning their individual voices in the sea of conformity below.

Case in Point:

In her September 8, 2013 article Most Common Writing Mistakes: Animate Body Parts, in line with prevalent thought, K.M. Weiland introduces the topic thusly:

You might be writing a horror story and not even know it. Picture this: body parts scattered all over the room. We’re talking a regular massacre. But it gets worse. These aren’t just any ol’ body parts. They’re . . . aliiiiive!


In her article Breaking the Rules: In Defense of Flying Body Parts, Tami Cowden points out the following:

According to Merriam-Webster, an idiom is “an expression that cannot be understood from the means of its separate words.” There is absolutely nothing wrong with using one. Or even, in moderation, more than one. In fact, writers who write in English ought to have command of the language in all its richness.

I don’t hold with the rigid, inane, suffocating No Flying Body Parts Rule. I believe Tami Cowden has it right. Let me give you an example that should put the ridiculousness of this rule into perspective. Collectively, we are probably more familiar with the same song lyrics and titles rather than the same novels, so I’ll use two song titles to make my point.

Can’t Take My Eyes Off You” is a 1967 single by Frankie Valli. The song was among Valli’s biggest hits, earning a gold record and reaching No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 for a week, stuck behind “Windy” by The Association.[1] It was co written by Bob Gaudio, a bandmate of Valli’s in The Four Seasons. It was Valli’s biggest solo hit until he hit #1 in 1974 with “My Eyes Adored You”.[2] “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You” has had a major cultural impact, with hundreds of cover versions, many of which have been on the charts in different countries. The song is a staple of television and film soundtracks, even being featured as part of the plot of some films, such as when the lead characters sing or arrange their own version of the song. The Valli version was also used by NASA as a wake-up song for a mission of the Space Shuttle, on the anniversary of astronaut Christopher Ferguson.

Here is something for you to ponder. How successful do you believe those two recordings would  have been if they were titled “Can’t Take My Gaze Off You” and “My Gaze Adored You”?


  4 Responses to “The Flying Body Parts Fallacy #writers #writing #rulesofwriting #flyingbodyparts”

  1. Very good point! And I agree completely. It kind of goes along with writing in one POV only in a scene. It seems these “rules” apply mostly to romance writers, because when I read books in other genres, they pay little attention to them. I’d say the “eyes have it.?

  2. Great post, Lana. I enjoyed listening to both songs and never once imagined eyes glued to anyone. And in grade school when the teacher demanded all eyes up front, none were given.

    • Another good example, Teresa. I didn’t see eyeballs rolling down the aisles to the front of the classroom either. During tests, the teacher also commended “eyes on your own papers” and the students didn’t pop their eyes out and stick them on their test papers.

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