“Vigorous writing is concise.”
—William Strunk, Jr., The Elements of Style
What else but your eyes can you blink, what else but your legs and feet can you kick with, and what else but your head ever nods? If those three things are true, should you ever write a sentence like:
Galen blinked his eyes, but still couldn’t see past the hazy curtain of smoke.
But inexperienced writers do it all the time. Heck, experienced writers do it, too. But one thing I can almost guarantee you is that if you pay attention to the rest of these examples, you’ll become sensitized to this dumb but common little mistake, and maybe, just maybe, you’ll join me in helping to make it go away.
Her eyes blinded by tears, Bronwyn fired an arrow into the black smoke.
Good thing we know it was her eyes that were blinded. I might have thought her nose was blinded, or her kneecap. Oh, wait, no, only your eyes can be blinded, really, right, so what if we just removed the first two words from that sentence?
Blinded by tears, Bronwyn fired an arrow into the black smoke.
The new sentence says precisely the same thing, but without the unnecessary language.
The next sentence . . .
Galen nodded his head and replied, “I agree, but we should eventually go back for Bronwyn.”
. . . actually has two things wrong with it. Now read it with those two things fixed:
Galen nodded and replied, “But we should eventually go back for Bronwyn.”
What other part of his anatomy might Galen have been nodding? It’s just not necessary to specify his head. And if he’s nodded, that could certainly take the place of, “I agree.” The nod signals the affirmative, and the shorter line of dialog follows with his conditions.
Since it’s possible to shake your hand, shake for booty, shake . . . all sorts of things, you do need to say:
Galen shook his head and replied, “Not until we go back for Bronwyn.”
And there are a few other times when the body part matters. This is not one of them:
Bronwyn kicked her feet at the three booglemen that approached her, scattering them.
It should read:
Bronwyn kicked at the three booglemen that approached her, scattering them.
Generally speaking you only kick with your legs and feet. No one has ever kicked someone with his eyelid, so it really isn’t necessary to specify—unless, frankly, there is some reason to specify.
Bronwyn kicked her feet and waved her arms as she fell, screaming the whole way down.
Might tempt you to try:
Bronwyn kicked and waved her arms as she fell, screaming the whole way down.
The second sentence would seem to imply that she’s kicking her arms and waving her arms, which doesn’t make sense. The former version, though we really shouldn’t have to specify what she’s kicking with, makes it clearer that her feet are doing one thing while her arms are doing something else.
I could offer page after page of similar examples, but I think you get the idea. Now, blink your toenail, nod your instep, and go back to writing!
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