Human Traits and Human Parts

Hey Folks,

Awhile back, I received an email from a long-time friend who’s also a professional writer. In his email, he wondered whether sometimes (maybe) it’s all right for writers to assign human traits to human parts: e.g., “His nose pressed up against the window” or “Her legs raced down the street” or “His eyes flew around the document.” Things like that.

The short answer is, No, it isn’t. I mean, you’re the writer and the Creator of your fictional world, so you can do whatever you want.

But it’s important to remember there are readers on the other side of the typed page. The wise writer is aware of anything that might run them off.

In every case, the writer draws the line in the sand;
in every case, the reader decides how many lines he can cross before he closes the book and moves on to something else.

For just one example (from the email), say the character is hurriedly viewing a document to discern its importance.

My friend’s possible solution was to write “If eyes could fly, his flew around the document.”

My own solution was “He quickly scanned the document for important information.”

Your solution might vary, and that’s fine.

For me, it’s important not to risk having the reader see the character’s eyes literally “flying” around the document. My friend might get away with his take if it ends up in his book. Much depends on context.

My solution evokes in the reader’s mind (maybe) not only the movement of the character’s eyes, but maybe the character grabbing the document and holding it up or his bending over it and maybe even small motions of his head as he scans it. In some small measure, it evokes a mood.

I also addressed this subject in an earlier post. To see my rationale, please visit “On Specificity and Clarity in Writing.”

Of course, if you WANT to write “His eyes flew across the room,” by all means please do. Especially if the character was just slapped on the back of the head. Hard. With a shovel.

Comments are probably closed on my earlier post, but they’re open on this one. Or you can feel free to email me at with any comments or questions.

‘Til next time, happy writing!


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4 thoughts on “Human Traits and Human Parts”

  1. Ha! I’m reminded of the time you noted a refrigerator running in the kitchen of one of my stories. I never would have caught it. Glad you did 😉

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