This is topic Unmentionable in forum Open Discussions About Writing at Hatrack River Writers Workshop.

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Posted by Grumpy old guy (Member # 9922) on :
While doing a bit of odd research I came across this Blog post.

Just how should we treat such subjects, if at all?


PS. I should learn to spell unmentionable.
Posted by extrinsic (Member # 8019) on :
I'm of the secondary-though-influential-to-the-action camp, "on stage" though alluded to, unless the event is central to the action of the moment.

Unmentionables, another matter, apparel that's seen, heard, touched, smelled, tasted, or emotionally felt, if it matters to the action, best practice is also portrayed secondhand -- alluded to, as with all activities of daily living portrayed by prose.

I recently read a novel in which all the socially taboo feature topics played out in scenes and on stage. The writer uses the motifs secondhand as objects and events that are pivotal, draw due notice to the action, and influence the action though the action is foremost.

The blog writer alludes to use of such motifs sparingly, timely, and judiciously, to do the due diligence research though not exhaust the research on the page. Also, the blog writer misses important points about unmentionable garments: assumes a Western contemporary sensibility -- well-to-do persons did not dress themselves, probably couldn't, at first, if their lives depended on dressing themselves. Furthermore, less-than-well-off persons did dress themselves; however, their ability to afford the present-day accoutrements taken for granted limited their options. Such persons might own a day shirt or shift and a night shirt or shift or one shirt or shift only for everyday and -night wear.

A day shirt or shift might be identical to nightwear, though perhaps nightwear has a longer length. A day shirt extended to mid calf, for example. Night shirts and day and night shifts extended to the ankles.

As to the chamber pot and such, the sinister hand was more than a vile weapon extremity. Still today, shaking hands left handed is a social trespass. Also, showing the bottoms of one's feet or shoes is a social trespass, though not as much abided in the present-day West as in the Middle and the East.

Perhaps a contemporary writer might also consider newly emergent social sensibilities caused by awareness of infectious diseases. Handshaking at least, physical touching generally, has become a cause for caution. Handshaking's origins no longer a grave concern either: to assure a met stranger has no hidden weapons up the sleeve.

Edited to add: innuendo and double or more entendre are methods congruent to allusion.

[ March 08, 2015, 09:57 PM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]
Posted by Robert Nowall (Member # 2764) on :
So much of what happens in real life seems to happen "offstage." I remember some of the weird / gross topics about what went on offcamera in "Star Trek"---were there toilets, or did they just hold it for their entire five year mission?---how did the women handle their periods?---and why didn't any of them get pregnant? They didn't "boldly go" there...

I remember having the idea that the characters in my own work can have all this fertility and menstruation stopped---safely, no ill effects other than no period---but how do I work that into the storyline? I "boldly ignored," too...
Posted by Reziac (Member # 9345) on :
I solved this with my nonhumans by arranging their physiology so the females don't have 'cycles'.

I think any of this falls under "necessary detail". It might be, or might not.

Side thought: the most memorable scene in ASOIAF involves the loo.
Posted by Reziac (Member # 9345) on :
Some decades ago a person of my acquaintance pointed out that we call the bathroom everything but what we actually do there. There are endless euphemisms applied to the loo. He grumped that we should just cut to the chase and call it the 'euphemism'.

This led to someone remarking that she was going to the euphemism to change her unmentionable.
Posted by Robert Nowall (Member # 2764) on :
In colonial times, they called it "the necessary." (Picked that up from "1776.")

There are lots of euphemisms for "the euphemism." Some of them rise to almost standard terms.

(I was once asked where I was going. I said "The bathroom." When I was asked why, I said, "Because that's where they keep the commodes.")
Posted by Denevius (Member # 9682) on :
We take baths in the bathroom. And plenty of people say 'toilet'. I think, though, that if we get more specific than that, we'd have to do that with every room in the house. So the kitchen becomes 'Eat Food Room', and the bedroom becomes 'Sleep and have sex room', and the living becomes 'Watch TV room'.
Posted by Smiley (Member # 9379) on :
Yes. I've heard the restroom called the 'Mud Room'.
Posted by Robert Nowall (Member # 2764) on :
The "watch TV room" is generally the "family room."
Posted by rstegman (Member # 3233) on :
I read a bunch of romances, mainly because I knew the authors before they got published.
I've read thousands of science fiction stories.
I've been chewed out over the years over my writing.

The basic recommendation is to leave out absolutely anything that does not advance the story.

The Romances I've read were written as if everybody was in freshly laundered linen, unless the smell of pine needles and flowers added to the excitement. In romances, the intent is to increase the desire not drive it down.
In many stories, they might mention falling in the slop of a pig pen or landing flat on a cow pie, but even then, while the person's reaction is key to the story and everybody else laughing about it, the way they are written, they don't stink and somehow they are clean later in the story.

In science fiction, One can write thousands of volumes without ever mentioning ever having to go to the bathroom, soiled clothing, body odor. All you have to do is ask yourself, "how does that advance the story?" Does Changing soiled underwear really help the reader get into the story or could it be skipped and get on with the action?

In my writing, I had/have a tendency to include stuff in the story that slows down the action. Does the information one gets in sitting down to eat, really help the story? Does having the hero stop and take in the scenery breathe life into the story or slow it down? If it were left out, would the story still work? Would the reader really miss it?
You know all sorts of background information but the reader only knows what is on the page. Would they really say, "Wait a minute, I missed something?" I had to learn to feed that information in some place else or even eliminate it and any reference to it. The latter usually makes for a tighter story.

So after so many words, if you can escape having to mention the unmentionables, your story might actually be better.

About the only way unmentionables would be key to a story is if it was something weird and no tourist could ever figure out how to wear it properly, showing they are not natives. Beyond that, like filthy swear words and porno scenes, the best recommendation is to leave it out.

My two cents.
Posted by extrinsic (Member # 8019) on :
I ambivalently concur: If in doubt about a part advancing an action, leave "it" out. On the other hand, a part may be essential and timely where it is or elsewhere. An alternative best practice is to revisit a part so it does advance an action.

Let's say a setting description authenticates a narrative from verisimilitude. That's all the description does in a rough draft. That's often not enough development. Agonist's interact with settings and settings interact with them. That interaction must, best practice, relate to the action at hand; in other words, agency's influences, which are causation and antagonism. For example, chain rattles surprise a viewpoint agonist. Obviously, a setting's aural sensation that calls due attention to it from a character, causal, and antagonal too.

How can an excretory function influence an action? This is a matter of context and texture W questions: who, when, where; what, why, how.

Likewise with objectionable aromas like body odor emanations. Likewise sexual and violent situations. The causal agency influences matter, first, foremost, and last. Gratuitous whatever doesn't influence agency, period.

Frankly, one common shortfall I encounter for narratives, regardless of publication path, is shoehorning too much content into too small a container. The latter contradicts the above motif development guidance, I know. Yet between the two, seemingly an irreconcilable dissonance, is suiting content to container.

Dramatically (tensional causation and antagonism) linger in a scene is a concept; vivid and lively, concise description is a concept; causality and antagonism is a concept, exponential expression duty is a concept, any and all of which, best practice, reconcile the double bind of fitting content to container, words and subject matter, the occasion, and the audience to one and each another.

Before excising a part, I recommend considering whether the part may have agency: who, when, where; what, why, and how. Even for a foreshadowing motif, that it's initial influence is not what later it more dramatically becomes. Change of state, this is agency, especially change of emotional state, which is tension's expression function.
Posted by Grumpy old guy (Member # 9922) on :
A trip to the 'necessary' can have a profound effect on a reader's perceptions of milieu. By showing the collection and storage of urine (usually stale) for the setting of dyes, or the quenching of swords (oh, yes, they did), may be developed to encapsulate the idea of the self-sufficient village and explain a lack of 'coinage'.

It's not an overt telling, or showing, that the village doesn't use money, the inhabitants bartering amongst themselves, and providing various 'services' for a return in kind.

But, you need to have a purpose that adds to the story, instead of taking away, or for simple titillation.


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