Monday, August 20, 2012

The Details: Make Sure Your Characters Are Taking Their Showers

So I'm reading this book see...and it's a pretty good story...but the author seemed to forget that her characters needed to take showers. Yes, showers. Can I hear a collective "EW" from the crowd?

I was reading along last night, and after a while I began to wonder when the female lead was going to take another shower. No, this was not a case where the author glossed over the shower scenes. She was detailing the days' events down to the minutae, so it was pretty clear that, no, the woman had not showered in three days.

Here's the course of events:

Female lead gets up and showers, then packs for a trip. Male lead comes to pick her up. They have a savage, sweat-inducing quickie, then rush around like their pants are on fire to dress and go to the airport, running through the sweltering airport in the tropical locale, just making it to their plane on time. They arrive at their destination a few hours later and immediately begin socializing with family. The female goes to bed in her clothes and falls asleep. It's late at night. In the morning, she wakes up, changes into new clothes, goes to the bathroom, puts her hair up, and goes down to breakfast. Then she puts on a steamy hot snowsuit and goes out to shoot some guns in the snow. By the time she returns home, she's covered in sweat, but changes out of the snow suit to put on another change of clothes and heads down to dinner. After dinner, she and the male lead character go to a cabin in the woods, where there is no running water for a shower. They have wild sex all night (by now it's been two full days since the woman has showered). The next morning, they wake up and they have sex again before leaving for the airport. On the fourth morning, the woman finally has a shower.

Okay, I was actually grossed out imagining what this woman must have smelled and, yes, tasted like after 3 days without a shower, and after having all that sex and sweating like she had been. Just gross.

Furthermore, the characters always seem to wake up and immediately have sex. I don't know about you, but first thing in the morning, with morning breath and having not had a shower since the morning before, I'm not feeling especially comfortable with the idea of getting freaky, you know what I mean? And this chick had gone THREE days without showering. Furthermore, I usually have to pee like a camel first thing in the morning. And since these characters drink - a LOT - in the evening and right before bed, I imagine that they have to go pretty badly in the morning, too. And yet, they don't seem to be bothered by their full bladders and just go at it like minks.

What I'm trying to say is that, as an author, you really do need to pay attention to the details of your characters' lives and behavior. It may be fiction, but even in fiction things have to be believable. People don't just wake up with perfect hair and perfect breath, with perfectly clean bodies and empty waste organs. Humans don't have bladders the size of 5-gallon jugs that can hold their pee for days at a time. And even in fiction - especially romantic fiction - your characters need to bathe. I mean, what did this chick's hair look like after 3 days of no showers? Hell, what did it SMELL like? What did SHE smell like? Ew!

Details, details, details. You need to be aware of the details, because rest assured, your readers are, and you don't want your inattention to the details to detract your readers from the story you're trying to tell, thus interfering with their reading experience. Trust me, I was very much detracted from the story, and my reading experience was negatively impacted, as I kept wondering when this woman was going to bathe again. And that's a shame, because the story was actually pretty good.

Happy writing, and happy reading.


  1. The details definitely matter, but I have to admit, I don't want to know about every bathroom break :-)

    1. I don't either, but the fact that every minute of every day for three days was written about for this female character and not once was a shower mentioned as she went from bed to clothes and back again greatly disturbed me as a reader. If there had been a break in the action that went "off the grid," I could have imagined the shower, but there wasn't a break at all. *shiver*

  2. Donya, you are so correct. I also occasionally have my charcaters use the bathroom. When i read a story where someone iz bedridden for days and there's no mention of a potty break, I wonder if the person has kidney failure. ☺ A shower, a bathroom break, brushing teeth, etc. make a character more believable.

    1. Ha ha! Kidney failure. :) Years ago, I read a book where one of the characters was temporarily bedridden. The author made it a point to show him being given sponge baths and being helped to the bathroom to show that he still had to tend to certain unavoidable functions. Not a lot of focus was put on those things, but it did make the scenes and characters more believable and I ended up thoroughly enjoying the book. So much so that I still remember it to this date. In the case of the book I referred to in my post, it could have been as simple as saying, "After taking a quick shower, she changed into fresh clothes, pulled back her hair, and headed downstairs for breakfast." Or, "Before joining the others for dinner, she hopped into a quick shower to freshen up."