When hands fly to throats

When hands fly to throats and leap out from pockets.

Have you read sentences that go something like this?

His hand flew out of his pocket and caught the girl’s flying handkerchief. The hand twirled it a couple of times and then pushed it into his top pocket.

At first glance something does not seem quite right but it is hard to figure out exactly what the problem is.

We can see what is happening. The words tell us. A hand flew out of someone’s pocket and grabbed a handkerchief which was also flying about.

When I put it through stylecheck™ the feedback tells me the passage is not working. It needs more description. But why would that be? The information is there?

I wrote this short piece for the purposes of illustrating a point and there are many more examples that are better. However, there is something else that is wrong. The writer has removed the hand from the actor's and created a scene that excludes anything around it. As the piece stands, the hand appears to be disengaged from its owner and acting on its own. We are told it is even doing things with a bit of a flourish. This last word raises another point. Flourish is one of those adjectives which needs help. On its own it is hard to imagine what the writer means by flourish. Is it a flick, a swirl or a sweeping action?

I often see both these things when a writer is trying to be creative and this experimentation is to be encouraged. But the writing does need to be clear, visual and also have context. Detached hands are hard to imagine or to take seriously.

Hands usually start waving about when writers try to vary sentence construction and to take a slightly different perspective - the hand's perspective rather than the character's.

When they do this their writing comes out sounding a bit like a parody with limbs flying about the place as an example.

It is an easy mistake to make and one I found myself making in the early days of writing.

So, how to fix it?

Simply attach the hand to a body and give character to people so that the hand is acting within a context.

Here’s an example.

Malcolm reached out and caught the girl’s handkerchief which the wind had whipped from her hand. He gave the handkerchief a couple a twirls and pushed it into his top pocket.

“Now come and get it,” he said with an evil grin.

“I would prefer not to,” she replied, her bottom lip quivering.


story context
sentence construction


Excellent. There have been many examples of this over the last few years. Most times, this is picked up by an editor. Creatively, we tend to write what comes into our head, composed from the heart, and then never do what we should do 24hrs later. Read it again to see the problem. I have done this so many times and now read the previous days work before starting each morning. Great piece and great warning, Suraya.
Thanks Ray. Much appreciated!
OMG! i have been so guilty of this as you well know, Suraya. A great read, reminding me to keep all body parts attached!
Yes, I sometimes need to remind myself. Oops there goes a knee (: and an ankle.