Monday Tropes: Bathroom Breaks, Eating, and Sleeping? Who needs them?

There are some things that are boring to read about; your character taking his newspaper to the John is one of them. However, this doesn’t mean that your character can just go without. Some writers, especially those who meticulously track their character’s progress through a story, decide to completely skip over all of that. While this might be all well and good for keeping action and tension high, you’re also going to run into a few problems.

Why this is bad: Especially if we’re following your character literally every step of the way, it can be a bit unbelievable if your character goes three days without eating, drinking, or sleeping, especially if they don’t seem to be getting any negative consequences from it. Also, if you’re not giving your characters these chances to chill out and be human (or, you know, whatever species they might be), then there’s a good chance that your pacing is out of whack, making it harder for your readers to suspend their disbelief.

How you can fix it: This really narrows down to pacing and story-telling. We don’t need to know every time your character needs to pee behind a bush. However, I know as soon as The Walking Dead Game‘s Clementine insists she needs to go to the bathroom that it’s going to be an important plot point soon. This is one of those things that should only come up when it is pertinent; if someone leaves the group to go to the bathroom, I know immediately that the group is either going to talk about them or that something bad is going to happen to that character while they’re away. Essentially, it can be used as a plot device. Meals and going to bed can also be used in similar ways, especially to slow the pacing down and allow for a little low-stakes character development.

You can also better this by including time skips. These help gloss over parts of the story that aren’t as important, such as all those important but boring human functions, while helping the story move along by controlling the pacing. If you’re spending every moment with a character, there’s a good chance that things are moving way too fast or way too slow. Time skips help control that, and they’re also an easy out for saying that your character took care of themselves during that time.

Bottom Line: Remember that your characters are more or less human, or at the very least have basic functions they need to tend to if they don’t want to die. Don’t include them if they’re not important, but be sure to offer breaks in the action and control the pacing so that the reader isn’t left wondering if this person is a robot.

One comment on “Monday Tropes: Bathroom Breaks, Eating, and Sleeping? Who needs them?

  1. You’d think that an experienced content editor would catch them, but traditionally published authors inflate their word counts with gratuitous bathroom breaks. I remember one famous book that made a couple of dozen extra words out of breaking wind while using a bucket, and another one that noticed details about the matting on the floor of the passageway, on a character’s trip to the loo. In both stories that information was neither important to character development, nor did it have any bearing on plot development.

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