I think it’s good to humanise characters by showing their flaws for example. Humanising a character could apply to bodily functions too if the story calls for it. I suppose it’s similar to writing about sex – you don’t do that just for the sake of it or to be prurient.
Ideally descriptions of bodily functions should add to the story by revealing something about your character or his/her relationship to their own body or other bodies or the world outside the body. A character’s relationship with food, for example, can say a lot about him or her.
You don’t necessarily have to be as extreme as Palahniuk whose transgressional fiction has made people faint at his readings. It could just be something salient or absurd or necessary to the story in some way.
Literature is full of interesting, well-written or unusual fictional depictions of bodily functions. Ulysses features Stephen Dedalus peeing early in the book, Bloom and Molly having various close encounters with other bodies throughout, Bloom and Dedalus both shaving, Molly’s period, and various fetishistic fantasies.
Gulliver’s Travels is another classic – the way in which Gulliver extinguishes a Lilliputian fire.
Irvine Welsh’s Trainspotting describes IV drug use and various effects on the body. Anthony Burgess wrote a series of four novels about a fictional poet called Enderby who can only write poetry while seated on the toilet. There’s plenty of writing about the body in Sterne’s Tristram Shandy.
In a recent workshop a character in a piece of fiction was bursting to go to the loo. New writers don’t usually mention their characters’ bodily functions, so I thought it was a good instinct.
I’d be interested to know how other writers approach this subject. Do you sometimes feel it’s necessary to write a character’s bodily functions? Do you think it’s important?
- How to write fiction: Andrew Miller on creating characters (guardian.co.uk)