As an editor, it’s my job to have a keen and critical eye when reading manuscripts. As such, I often home in on repeated words, awkward sentence structure, POV shift… all the little things that can turn an “okay” story into an amazing, can’t-put-down story, and vice versa. However, when all the submissions and acquisitions are put away and it’s time for some R&R (relaxation and reading), it seems my editor’s hat is still on, and I can’t help but notice certain niggling details even while reading my “just for fun” books.
Of course, grammar and misspellings are the first things I usually spot, but I’ve also started to find myself fixating on character gestures and wondering just how realistic they are. Don’t get me wrong — I realize that when it comes to fiction, there are some things in particular that are acceptable in books that wouldn’t necessarily fly in the real world (i.e., use of the words “thus”, “hence” and “unaware”). But when it comes to quirks and gestures, I wonder if these things really happen, or if it’s a “fiction only” action.
For example, snorting. I see this all the time; a hero and/or heroine snorts in disbelief at something, or in sarcastic reply to another character. Now, my personal sarcasm level is pretty high up there and yet I don’t think I’ve ever snorted. An abrupt “HA!”, yes. An out-loud huff? Sure. But never a snort. Am I the only one?
Another one that gets me is when characters (mostly men) growl — be it during a bedroom scene, or in the midst of a building rage. I can’t help but read this gesture literally and think of a snarling dog when it feels threatened. Furthermore, I become especially irked when growled is used as a dialogue tag. Authors, take note: “You’re gonna be sorry after I get through with you,” he growled is NOT correct. Unless your characters moonlight as ventriloquists, they cannot growl an entire sentence!
The last one I see a lot is the all-too familiar jaw drop. No matter how surprised or shocked I’ve been, never once has my jaw dropped, which leads me to believe that this gesture is strictly fiction-only. However, I’ll be the first to admit that it comes down to personal preference and that I cringe a little every time I come across this phrase. Blame it on countless hours of Looney Tunes cartoons as a kid, but whenever a character’s jaw drops, I can’t help but think of a cartoon wolf whose eyes bug out and mouth hits the ground when he lays eyes on a sexy she-wolf. Again, is it just me?
I’m sure there are more gestures and instances where characters do things that I wouldn’t deign to do in real life, and for the most part, I’m okay with that. As they say, “The best stories contain just enough fact to make it interesting and the right amount of fiction to make it plausible.”
ROAMING QUESTION: What about you? Do you actually do any of the things I’ve listed above? Are there any gestures you’ve come across in books that are “fiction-only”? If so, what are they?