Monday, March 26, 2012

Character Traits: Hygiene

This post was inspired by burrito night at my house. There are currently three men and a five year old occupying this house with my daughter and I. Let's just say things became musical and smelly and got me to thinking about hero's and hygiene. I'm not sure I have ever read anything on this topic.

Traditionally, hero's, both male and female are close to perfect. but is that really much fun? I mean, we are discussing flaws in these post so why not hygiene?

Hygiene in all forms will depend on time period, customs, and the availability of cleaning products including soaps, toothpaste, etc. In medieval and Renaissance Europe people didn't bathe on a regular basis due to fears that this practice would lead to demon possession. The rich sprayed themselves with perfumes and the poor just smelled bad. When the first European's came to America they where amazed at how clean the Native American's were. If your hero lives in this time period much will depend on his or her nationality.

You may ask, why on earth hasn't Hollywood mentioned the stink the Roman army must have left behind as they marched to war? Come on, allergies must have plagued others and not just modern man. Today we are a bit snobbish about hygiene. In the future there maybe a sonic shower or a procedure to remove all offensive odors from the human body.

Hygiene and your hero:

I would not make this into a huge issue with your hero. Bad hygiene is better applied to a comic character who is a friend or acquaintance of your hero. However, the occasional mishap, or a bad habit, the issue can be turned into a comic scene to lighten the mood of your story temporarily.


In my epic fantasy, The Treasures of Carmelidrium, Prince Healden is dining at an Inn with my heroine, Missie and many others. This is predominately a medieval society but has been influenced by modern conveniences. However, no one has introduced forks, knives and napkins at dinner to date. Healden and all others except Missie, a modern American University student, are eating with their hands. A bit of greasy meat hangs from Healden's chin and Missie reaches over with a cloth she has obtained to wipe it off, causing a stir among the guest. In this chapter the tension has been building solidly and this small scene breaks that tension, reveals personality traits of the characters and allows the reader to breathe. This is hygiene gone bad but completely acceptable in the time period.

I suspect that many of you have addressed hygiene in your stories. I'd love it if you shared.


Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Nancy .. it's being mentioned more and more - and we've had some programmes here on rotting food, the Natural History Museum put on a children's on olfactory scents etc .. and some of the forensic programmes ascertain how people died - and what effects these things had on their bodies and others .. and there are articles and books about stench etc ..

But you're right actually appearing in novels - it probably doesn't happen often .. and we can glean aspects from our own way of life .. I haven't written about it as such but I make mention in a few posts.

Cheers Hilary

N. R. Williams said...

Hi Hilary
It's hard to imagine what people in the past had to live with and deem normal. Thanks for dropping by.

Bish Denham said...

I just finished reading book one of the Hunger Games (yeah I know I'm a bit behind the curve.) Collins does a fairly good job with the issue of hygiene. She even mentions peeing, but only once. I can't recall a novel where bodily functions (aside from burping and farting) have been included. Peeing, pooping and having periods (How would Katniss have handled that?) are simply not as romantic as eating with your hands. :)

Southpaw said...

There really are so many things to take into account when writing.

N. R. Williams said...

Hi Bish
I haven't read the Hunger Games so don't feel bad. I think we might see more of this is books. Especially since going to the bathroom has become somewhat standard in movies.

Hi Holly
You're right.

Thank you both for dropping by.

L. Diane Wolfe said...

I have several characters in my YA series who were college football players. You can well imagine the stink after practices!

N. R. Williams said...

LOL Diane, I sure can.

Carolyn V said...

I don't think I have, but now I might have to!

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Oh sure! Flying space fighters is dirty business.

N. R. Williams said...

Hi Carolyn
Yes...we rarely consider the obvious.

Hi Alex
Hey, it gets hot in the cockpit.

Thank you both for stopping in.

DeniseCovey_L_Aussie said...

Hey Nancy, hope things are improving! A house move soon?

Those luscious regency romances wouldn't be half the fun if we knew the real state of those smelly bodies under the silken gowns and fine hose.
Take all the romance out of it.


N. R. Williams said...

Hi Denise
Yes, I thought the same thing when I wrote this post. LOL

M Pax said...

Spaceships are very smelly, too. I think I often mention that when my characters are on one. Even if we're clean, we leave behind smells and oils and stuff.

Jemi Fraser said...

One of my characters has been lost in the woods for several days now ... not smelling pretty!