Okay. So I was writing this chapter for a book I’m working on and the main character has to urinate. That got me thinking about the mention of bodily functions in short stories I have written, and in books and movies in general.
The way I see it is there are three activities we perform daily, beyond breathing, which are key to our individual survival: eating, sleeping and producing waste. (Staying hydrated I lump in with eating.) The longer we go without performing one or the other, the worse off we get. They are big deals. Many of us are lucky enough to live where we can take these things for granted; but many aren’t.
When we don’t do all three of the above every day, we notice quickly. Our health can be adversely affected in short order.
So when writing about a character and spending time with that character on whatever type of journey he or she might be on–physical, spiritual, or otherwise–the same rules apply to him or her. They have to perform the same basic tasks as the rest of us, or they aren’t believable.
Granted, most of the time these activities are not important to the story being told; but how many times have you watched a movie and wondered “don’t these people ever have to stop and go to the bathroom”? Just how long can the hero go on battling the villain without eating?
The absence of the activities can sometimes create holes in the logic of the scene or story.
I know if I am on a simple road trip, all three activities come into play. They can have an impact on my plans or, in extreme cases, even change my life. What if I fall asleep at the wheel because I’ve been driving for hours at night without sleep? What if I have to pee badly but the next gas station or rest stop is twenty miles away, and I can’t hold it that long because I’ve downed a Venti coffee from Starbucks? Do I pull over somewhere? Do I get caught, issued a ticket, or arrested?
Personally, I don’t like to gloss over these things in my stories. Now do I mention every meal and potty break? No. But I try to work them into my timeline so I can keep track of how long a character has gone without, and if they had opportunities between scenes to take care of their basic needs. If there wasn’t, there’s an issue.
These things are a part of our daily lives. If the lack of them occurring might jeopardize the credibility of one of my insanely wild and unlikely tales, then I think it is my duty to address it.