Subscribe to Blog via Email

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

I’ve got one hand in my pocket…

by | Sep 11, 2018 | Editing Corner | 8 comments

…and the other one is playing a piano.

Alanis Morissette gets beaten up a lot over her 1995 hit, Ironic, which lists several ironic things (like a black fly in your Chardonnay, or the good advice that you just didn’t take) which just… well, aren’t. Ironic, that is. I’m going to give Alanis a pass on Ironic, though. (She’ll be pleased to hear that, no doubt). She nailed the one about the guy who was afraid to fly and died in a plane crash, and a few others were pretty close. That’s good enough for me.

Where we come to blows, though, is in another song from the same Jagged Little Pill album called Hand in My Pocket. Let’s check some more of those lyrics:

And what it all comes down to my friends, yeah

Is that everything is just fine, fine, fine

‘Cause I’ve got one hand in my pocket

And the other one is hailing a taxi cab

I don’t think everything is going to be fine, fine, fine.

“Hop in, lady. Where ya goin?”

“I’m sorry, I don’t want a cab.”

“Well why’d ya’ hail me down?”

I didn’t hail you, it was my hand.”

“Crazy bitch.” The cab’s tires squeal as it peels away from the curb.

Do you see my problem? Alanis’s hand was acting autonomously. Right now all it’s doing is playing pianos and hailing taxis, but before long it’ll be pulling puppy dog tails and tripping grannies, and mark my words, all hell’s gonna break loose.

Autonomous Body Parts

You might say I’m being pedantic (“Belinda, you’re being pedantic”), but this lyric and the one about playing a piano never sat well with me, and that was long before I learned about Autonomous Body Parts in fiction.

It just sounds wrong. Hands don’t play the piano, people do, and it sounds weird when you attribute those actions to a body part.

What does this have to with erotica?

In erotica and erotic romance, we talk about body parts and their myriad delectable actions a lot. Kissing, licking, stroking, fingering, spanking, fisting—our body parts get busy, my friends, and we’re not always completely in control. We’re wont to see a lot of involuntary or reflexive actions, such as:

Her lower lip trembled.

Her pupils dilated.

His cock bucked and throbbed and exploded inside her.

And these are all fine. We would never say, ‘She trembled her lower lip.’

Indeed, it’s the conscious actions we need to watch out for.

Brittany’s hand reached for his cock.

His fingers clutched at her ample ass.

Her lips kissed his turgid member.

Sorry about that last one. I can’t bring myself to put prose that purple into my stories, so this blog is my only outlet. On their own, you might not notice one of these rogue body parts, but our erotic writings don’t contain single, isolated actions—they contain lots of them, strung together pages on end. Put three or more of these together and people will notice.

I haven’t got it all figured out just yet

Voluntary, involuntary, autonomous…I’m confused. How can I tell when it’s okay to attribute an action to a body part?

Brittany’s back arched, and with a piercing scream, she came.

Should this be, ‘Brittany arched her back’? If she’s in the throes of orgasm, is it involuntary, or is she doing it deliberately to increase the pressure on her clit? God, this is so hard! (said the nun to the vicar)

Brittany blinked.

Blinking is involuntary! Should that be ‘Brittany’s eyes blinked?’ And how about this one?

Todd’s tongue slid into her mouth.

We can be pretty sure that Todd’s tongue wasn’t acting alone, here, but the alternative, (Todd slid his tongue into her mouth), whilst not wrong, is not an improvement. In fact, the original for all three of these cases sounds just fine.

It can depend on the verb. Every verb has a subject—the person or thing performing the action. In the case of Autonomous Body Parts, the subject is a thing—Todd’s tongue, Brittany’s hand—but for the non-autonomous version, the subject is a person—Todd, Brittany.

Here’s a useful trick: try using the verb in both a ‘who’ and a ‘what’ question to discover the subject.

  1. Who slid?
  2. What slid?

If the sliding was happening on a ski slope, then option 1 would work fine, but we’re talking about tongues, so ‘what slid?’ is the more meaningful question, suggesting it’s okay for the tongue to be the subject when ‘slid’ is the verb.

What happens when we change the verb to ‘licked’?

Todd’s tongue licked between Brittany’s supple folds.

Well, let’s ask it as a question.

  1. Who licked?
  2. What licked?

In this case, both might seem plausible at first, but look more closely. If you were given an obviously pre-licked ice cream, would you ask who licked it, or what licked it? So, when it comes to licking, the subject of the sentence should ideally be the individual who owns the tongue, not the tongue itself.

Let’s go back to our first example.

Brittany’s back arched, and with a piercing scream, she came.

  1. Who arched?
  2. What arched?

Both seem to work. This suggests there are edge cases and they’re not uncommon. If you come across an edge case in your writing, use your gut, and perhaps fall back on the voluntary versus involuntary sub-rule above.

Everything is gonna be quite alright

Whichever way those edge cases go, most people won’t notice and pedants like me will cut you some slack. The important thing is you’re finding the obvious ones which are more common and far more overt: kissed, licked, blinked, nuzzled, reached, stroked, fingered, touched—if you want your prose to sound in any way erotic, these all demand a human actor.

Or a tentacled alien. I’m not judging, just don’t make it an autonomous body part.

About the Author Belinda LaPage

Belinda LaPage lives and works in Sydney, Australia. Writing is a labour of love for her, but the life of a tortured artist is not, so for now it is simply a part time affair, and a pathway to affording more of the wrong shoes. She enjoys the Sydney beaches, time with friends, and spending lunch time in a café sneakily writing erotica in the midst of strangers.

8 Comments

  1. Tee hee hee! This gave me the giggles. It’s a really good trick for deciding the edge cases, so thanks for that.

    I hope this isn’t toooooo widely successful, because a lot of humour can be found with overly autonomous body parts. I particularly like it when they acquire personalities as well (“fiercely uncompromising knees”) or when they’re very athletic (“his feet thrust over the of the bed, finding the floor and bracing themselves).

    Seriously though – great article on a fiddly subject, deftly handled.

    • FIercely uncompromising knees? Not even Alanis went that far. Now I’m going to be on the alert for hilariously autonomous body parts (which of course must be preserved for artistic integrity)

      • Delores Swallows

        You should listen to football commentators…

        ‘This player has got an intelligent left foot.’

        There are hundreds of these mentioned every season…

  2. Delores Swallows

    Great post, Belinda. I’m now worried that I do this all the time – I’ll have to check my WIP…

    ‘Harry watched on as Lucas’s monster-cock ravaged his wife’s eager and willing honey hole.’

    Getting back to Alanis, who I consider very attractive, I don’t care about the other hand. I want her to describe exactly what she’s doing with the one in her pocket 🙂

    • Delores, I think this example is fine. It highlights Harry’s fascination with both Lucas’ and Michelle’s bodies. Furthermore, it turns the two of them into sexual objects.

      Okay, maybe a “honey hole” shouldn’t be described as “eager” and “willing”….

    • Oh, Alanis answered that on her little-known follow-up album – Jagged Little Dildo.

  3. Sharp and funny as usual, Belinda — and not at all pedantic.

    My romance editors called this construction IBP – Independent Body Parts. There was one woman who would red-line every hint of an IBP. In contrast, I believe that you need to consider the individual cases and decide accordingly. Your guidelines are useful. However, sometimes one wants to use an IBP as a figure of speech, even if strictly speaking it doesn’t make sense.

    The real problem arises when an author strings several of these constructions together. Then things really begin to get strange.

    “Her eyes followed his toned body as he paced. Her tongue licked her lips, her mouth suddenly dry with desire. Her hand brushed an errant lock of hair off her forehead. Why wouldn’t he look at her? Truly SEE her? Arms, legs, lips, breasts, belly….”

    • Thanks Lisabet. I sense that snippet could go on 🙂

Hot Chilli Erotica

Hot Chilli Erotica

Archives

  • 2018 (72)
  • 2017 (103)
  • 2016 (137)
  • 2015 (160)
  • 2014 (155)
  • 2013 (144)
  • 2012 (110)
  • 2011 (14)
  • 2010 (5)
  • 2009 (31)
  • 2008 (8)
  • 2007 (3)

Categories

Babysitting the Baumgartners - The Movie
From Adam & Eve - Based on the Book by New York Times Bestselling Authors Selena Kitt

Subscribe to Blog via Email

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Pin It on Pinterest