Bodily Functions? I Got Nuthin’

Um, just so you know: this isn’t the start of a stand-up routine in which I trot out jokes I would have giggled over when I was in fifth grade. (And yes, I probably would laugh about them now. I won’t blame you for running from this post in disgust.) You see, the other day, I was in the middle of writing an email message to a friend when I came to the sudden realization that none of the characters in my current novel has eaten anything—not so much as a crust of bread. Trust me—they are not like me in that respect. One of the first questions out of my mouth whenever I talk to one of my sisters-in-law or my parents is, “What are you going to eat for dinner?”

My characters also are not dieting nor are they anorexic, robots, anorexic robots (hmm—that would make an interesting sci-fi novel), or vampires living on a liquid diet. So what gives? Picture me shrugging. Ironically, I love the scenes in the Harry Potter books and movies where the students gather in the great hall at Hogwarts Castle to tuck into a feast. I love all mention of food in The Lord of the Rings (um, except what orcs, Gollum, and Shelob eat). One of my favorite films is Babette’s Feast, which is all about food! Yet I have trouble writing scenes where characters eat or deal with other bodily functions—unlike two books in my possession.


In The Naming, the first book of the Pellinor series for young adults by Alison Croggon, Maerad (the main character) undertakes a harrowing journey. I love those! They’re so . . . harrowing. Anyway, the author doesn’t shy away from a discussion of Maerad’s menstrual cramps. Croggon boldly goes where I have yet to go. In Shadowfell, a young adult fantasy novel by Juliet Marillier that I’m reading now, a hot guy actually helps the main character to answer nature’s call when she’s too weak from an illness to head to the privy on her own. While I’m not sure if the guy is the love interest (I’m guessing he will be, though he’s a mystery right now), nothing says “Be mine” like a hero who helps the heroine use a chamber pot.

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Part of my reticence is the fact that I have a difficult time working these “natural” moments into the narrative . . . uh . . . naturally. Silly me. I worry too much about how such moments will advance the plot. Okay. I hear you. Do they actually have to serve that purpose? But if every scene needs to count, I have to wonder.

Okay. Okay. Eating and answering nature’s call are both important (well, maybe flatulence isn’t). I totally get that. Maybe I can have one of my point-of-view characters overhear an important conversation while retreating behind a conveniently placed bush to um “see a man about a horse.”

No good, you say? Well, any advice for me? How do you work eating and other bodily functions in your narrative in a way that doesn’t seem forced?


When your characters are out in nature, will they answer the call?

Book covers from Goodreads. Woods and river photo from Wikipedia.