Friday, September 16, 2011

Books and the Bathroom

Have you ever realized how rare it is for a character in a book to go to the bathroom?

Once in a great while, I stop during a particularly long scene that covers a large period of uninterrupted time and think, "Man, that character must REALLY have to pee!"

If you think it's wierd that I notice these things, please realize it isn't often, and that I'm a mother of 4 children, 3 of them potty trained. It's my JOB to notice bathroom habits!

Then what is the reason we don't see characters go to the bathroom (besides the obvious gross factor?)

Because....


IT DOESN'T ADD TO THE STORY!

Unless your scene needs to have a portion take place IN the bathroom (which I actually have read before) there is no need to go there.

Now, this blog post isn't just about not taking your character to the bathroom. Because that would be kinda weird.


It's about the fine line between showing enough of our characters life to immerse the reader and make it realistic without boring them to tears.

It is realistic for our character to go to the bathroom.
It is realistic for our character to burp.
It is realistic for our character to far.... er, pass air through their digestive system.
It may be realistic for our character to file their nails, do their makeup, take a shower, get dressed, do laundry, clean the house, bake cookies, mow the lawn, surf the Internet, watch TV, get a pedicure, pick a piece of food out of their teeth, blow their nose and accidently get a booger on their shirt.

There are a TON of realistic things our characters do, day in and day out.

But we can't show them all. Otherwise our story will be...

BORING! And gross.

Although we need to show SOME of them, otherwise our story will be...

FAKE!

The key is to show these realistic things in the course of a scene where it ADDS TO OUR STORY. Where it enhances instead of distracts.

If you're in the middle of a discussion between hero and heroine and the heroine suddenly stops and says, "Hold on, I have to go to the bathroom, be right back." Yeah, totally ruins the moment. Although when a girls gotta go, a girls gotta go!

But a scene where a villainous antagonist who is trying to seduce the hero away from the heroine escapes into the restaurant bathroom to collect herself and primps to make sure her dress is showing all the right curves and shoves past someone else coming into the restroom.... it potentially shows her intention, character, and motive through "action" verses telling dialogue.

Or a single heroine who drags out the lawnmower on a Saturday morning only to be accosted by her elderly neighbor who forces her to take custody of the woman's huge fat cat even when heroine HATES animals, then the cat becomes a constant figure throughout the book and shows the woman's loneliness when she resorts to telling her woes to the mammoth feline.

Discussion: What "realistic" scenes do you have in your novel, or have you read in a novel recently?

15 comments:

Angie said...

Just reading this first line, cracked me up! I am weird, but I ALWAYS think about that...not the bathroom thing, but the character never needing to relieve themselves. Yeah, it must be a mom thing!

I just started reading One Thousand Gifts, and she describes her physical birth, the crown of fire, the vernex...all the details that I wouldn't have thought would make it to an inspirational book. Granted, it's non-fiction, but still!

Diane said...

Great thoughts, although, I am totally one for bathroom humor so maybe a compromise is needed in my case.... :O)

Krista Phillips said...

Angie, it probably is a mom thing:-)

Diane, LOL. Depending on your genre, that is probably totally fine (within reason, HA!)

Jessica R. Patch said...

Great post and fun! It's true, I rarely read that unless it's necessary to the plot.

NO smooching first thing in the morning WITHOUT brushing the "teefies"! I hate watching that on TV or reading it in a book. It makes my stomach crawl. Let's be honest, who does that? :)

Mary Vee said...

As per usual...an important concept delivered in a fun, down to earth way.
Thanks, Krista

Casey said...

LOL! Krista I love your style!! And each concept it so very true. ;-)

Jeanne T said...

I'm sitting in Starbucks trying not to laugh too loudly as I read your opening section of this post. :) So true, Krista. It IS a mom-thing.
I do mention in my wip about my hero needing to go home and change clothes before meeting his wife at a party, but so far that is the only "realistic" thing I've written about. I'm sure I've read plenty, but nothing is coming to mind. Thanks for the giggle and practical application.

Krista Phillips said...

Glad I could tickle y'all's funny bone this morning!!

And morning kisses! HILARIOUS!!! I guess since I write romance (i.e. they aren't together in the morning TO kiss since they aren't married...)

Although... this could totally be used in a scene:-) MIGHT have to do that!

Keli Gwyn said...

Krista, you're a kick. Your intro made me smile.

I remember reading one of the classics by Beverly Cleary in which the main character, a precocious girl named Ramona, was listening to her elementary school teacher read Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel. Mike spent the entire day digging a foundation for a building, never once leaving the scene. Ramona raised her hand and asked the question burning in her young mind, "When did he go to the bathroom?"

I can't remember what the teacher said, but I remember thinking that Ramona had a point. While some readers might wonder about such things, the day-to-day details of living don't add to a story. Interesting and enjoyable trumps realistic, as you pointed out so cleverly.

Jennifer K. Hale said...

I'm with Jessica on the morning kisses...I have a thing about breath, so when I'm watching a movie or TV show and they are drinking or downing nachos and then suddenly make-out--it's gross. :)

Krista Phillips said...

Keli, That is a FANTASTIC example:-)

Joanne Sher said...

Stilllll laughing. And I will remember this lesson because of that! Super stuff!

Rita Garcia said...

Love your delivery of a great lesson! Still laughing out loud, literally!

Krista Phillips said...

Joanne and Rita, Glad I could help you laugh and help the lesson "stick"!

Pepper said...

Argh
Blogger ate my comment.

okay-
imaginary people = imaginary bladders :-) So we don't have ot read about their imaginary bathrooms, right? ;-)

Good points, Krista

I have a scene in my book where the herione is trying to locate a pair of hose that do not have a run in them.
My hero hears her pray for help while standing outside the door :-)