Writing with surprising grace, despite my bulk…

Lately I have been noticing an annoying trend among otherwise wonderful writers. I’m going to start collecting them, but I am currently reading two books (one audio, one Kindle), and both have gone there, and that’s when it struck me that … EVERYone goes there.

Barbara Hambly, Good Man Friday: “Henri…danced also, with surprising grace for a man of his bulk.”

George R.R. Martin, A Game of Thrones: “He moved with surprising delicacy for such a massive man.” That’s about Magister Illyrio. And about the man Arya follows: “Grossly fat, yet he seemed to walk lightly”. But wait – I did a search, and there’s more: Ser Jorah: “Deftly, with a delicacy surprising in such a big man” – AND: Sandor Clegane: “With a delicacy surprising in such a big man”…

See, here’s the thing. In my life right now, the person with the heaviest stride (“You walk like an elephant!”) is a little athletic wisp of a thing. Me? I could almost make two of her, and you’re never gonna hear me coming. And, thinking about it, I don’t think any of the large or obese people I’ve ever known have been particularly heavy-footed, or graceless, or whatever. Nobody shook the ground when they walked. Nobody routinely knocked over furniture. Nobody ever squashed a child or dented the floor.

Here’s a thought … maybe because someone is large, or fat, or both, it doesn’t mean they’re clumsy. Maybe all these fictional narrators should stop being so damned surprised at large people’s grace or deftness.

Or at least they could find a new way to express their surprise.

No, they just need to stop it.

For fun, I just went to Google Books and typed “surprisingly graceful for bulk” into the search window. There are “about 5,170 results”. Now, glancing through, some are duplicates, and some of the quotes are about animals, and one is about a cathedral – but… “He is always elegantly dressed, surprisingly graceful for his bulk.” “Pug’s graceful dancing, despite his bulk”. “Then she unfolded, surprisingly graceful given her prodigious bulk”. “For all of his bulk, he was surprisingly graceful.” “And did so in a surprisingly graceful motion for all of his bulk.” “Surprisingly graceful and light on his feet despite his bulk.” “With a surprising fleetness of foot, considering his bulk.” “For such a big man he was surprisingly graceful.”

That’s the first couple of pages of the search.

So, basically, not only is it a bit of a regularly occurring smack in the face to anyone who is, as they say, bulky, but … Come on, people. Over five thousand results for almost the same wording – and that’s only one variation on the phrasing. This goes beyond cliché.

Stop it. Seriously, everyone, stop it.

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2 Responses to Writing with surprising grace, despite my bulk…

  1. Good point. I think it’s become one of those catch all, almost expected phrases. Like ‘unkempt hair’ or ‘brooding eyes.’ It shows a lack of deeper thought, I agree. And I just searched my current work for the words bulk and grace. i’m happy to say neither were used in this context. But without a heads-up, I can’t say I wouldn’t have fallen into the trap too.

  2. stewartry says:

    It’s one of those things that always sort of niggled at me – but it never really registered till it popped up in both of mu current books within hours. It’s easy – like “for a long moment” (something I’ve been very guilty of) and the ones you mention.

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