When do characters go to the bathroom?
The advice of many editors and authors would be never, at least not on the page. Fiction is about telling stories, and while going to the bathroom is a part of life, it is not a part that’s relevant to the story you’re trying to tell.
Unless it is.
In the case of The Green Mile by Stephen King, a urinary tract infection is actually a crucial plot point particularly with regard to how it is healed.
In The Right Stuff a considerable amount of time is devoted to the question of whether or not Alan Shepard can pee in his suit while he’s waiting on the launch pad (this is actually one of the tamer bodily function examples from this book, trust me).
I had a similar situation arise in revision last night. My character is in a fighter craft for 30+ hours. That’s a long time to not use the bathroom.
But does it add to my narrative to mention it? Maybe not. I think the main question in whether or not characters burp, fart or go to the bathroom is what the purpose is in revealing that moment.
In the case of my character it was a little about realism, and a little about humanizing him in a tough situation. Later on in the book he drinks a beer, burps, and tosses the broken bottle down on the deck. This would seem completely unnecessary (and this is revision so it might not stick around for long), but on the other hand that broken beer bottle becomes one of his guide posts to reality. And he did drink the beer rather quickly, wouldn’t he belch?
Maybe this a guy thing. Maybe it’s even a generational thing. One of my Dad’s comments about reading my draft was about the fact my characters go to the bathroom. It actually doesn’t happen as often as this post suggests, but obviously the few mentions were memorable.
What do you think? When does talking about bodily functions add to the story? Examples?