Today, while looking through some old critiques of a novel, I came across a comment penned in a margin. It made me pause to think. My story is an epic fantasy and in this particular passage the character is trapped, chained in a cell. The reader commented “Dare I ask, how is she using the bathroom?”
Yes, treasured beta reader, dare ask.
It’s a mundane issue, but it’s the type of thing authors, especially those who write epic fantasy and adventure, must consider.
Our characters have to eat, sleep and deal with body functions. Gamers are particularly familiar with these issues. Video games frequently hamper players with the need for their character to deal with the day/night cycle, acquire food and the requirement for rest. Why? Because it’s an element of reality—real life raising its ugly head.
It’s an inconvenient monkey wrench in a progression of events we would prefer to be easy and uneventful.
A writer has to deal with these issues, too. Not in every time, or in every genre, of course. Jack Reacher is a big boy, capable of taking care of himself in the modern world, though even he has to grab the occasional cracker or a bottle of water on his way out the door. But Jack or any other hero or heroine facing a long desert passage has to deal with the need for water. Whether it’s hiring a guide to take him or her to the next water hole, wearing mounds of robes to prevent the evaporation of body sweat or figuring out a way to transport gallons of water along on the trip, it has to be addressed if we want to give our reader the full experience of the adventure.
Add the food required for that crossing and there’s a mountain of supplies to transport. Not exactly what the fleet-footed adventurer wants in tow.
Enter the plot device of a random encounter or a timely discovery—perhaps the wreckage of a plane, or a lost fortress. Evil raiders might sweep in, intent on taking captives. With water and food in reserve, of course.
Into any situation we must also factor the protagonist’s personality. Would the pampered princess venture out into that desert without supplies? Not unless she had no other choice! Would the adventurous entrepreneur head out into the sand? Maybe. What is he or she willing to risk? It all gets tangled up into one thorny ball.
Does the reader need to know every time your character takes a breath? No. But if you put your character in a difficult situation, keep in mind the restrictions you’ve lain on them. Make them live within those constraints. Make them solve their problems.
Not only will it make your writing more believable, it will make it more interesting.
And, just an FYI, my character was given short exercise periods, with the unwritten understanding that she would relieve her needs.
Any thoughts? Please feel free to post comments.