Monday, 26 January 2009

A stiff upper lip and bladder control, please

I can't be certain who started it, but my money is on Graham Greene in The Comedians in 1966. In that novel, it's an effective means of conveying just how terrifying Papa Doc's secret police, the Tonton Macoute were.

I'm talking about the hero of a novel wetting his pants under extreme stress and fear.

The same unfortunate accident happens to Tom in the excellent book Mortal Engines, when Shrike appears. But now it seems to be a routine occurrence in every other unpublished thriller that I read on Authonomy (and I've read the start of at least one novel each day since May 2008). I can't believe it's written from personal experience. I think writers are seeing it in other people's books, and thinking, ooh, that's a gritty way of demonstrating the fix my hero is in. It's become a bit of a cliché.

So the point of this post is to urge all modern heroes to pull themselves together, get a grip, and stop being big girls' blouses. It's not attractive to have a hero behave like a toddler.

You wouldn't catch Bulldog Drummond damp around the trousers.


  1. I'm with you on this one, Lexi. Even if it is a fact that most people would lose bladder control in moments of extreme peril I'm not convinced it needs to be a part of a story. And if it is, how the consequences are handled (or ignored, which does seem to happen sometimes, like children in television situation comedies) tells us whether the stain was a necessary part of the story or not.

    I can tell you with no little authority that certain dachshunds whiz with very little provocation.


  2. Tell Odie to pull himself together! Is he a dog or a mouse?

    I remember patting an appealing pooch on Hoxton Street, and he widdled over my boots. I didn't feel the same about him after that.

  3. He's gotten better over the years. We got him from the Dachshund Rescue folks and my guess is he was abused as a youngster, which made him a nervous wreck. He needs me and I can't give up on him. We've just learned to let him make the first move. And when he does the love is right there in his eyes.

    But I backed off using that aspect of his character in molding The General. It just didn't add to the story. Time spent cleaning up after the woofer does not make for riveting reading.


  4. The rub is our autonomic nervous system. In cases where the fight/flight response kicks in we are preprogrammed to dump ballast for whichever action we need to take.

    Life is messy.

    Alan, as you know Dachshunds are stubborn and ornery. Mary had Frankie (a blind female) when I met her. She was 12 pounds of pure will. No wonder they can kill badgers (badgers! we don't need no stinking badgers!)

  5. Just remember that heroes are supposed to be "mean, moody and magnificent" or so I've been told.

    Mean, moody, magnificent and wet doesn't seem quite right somehow.

  6. "mean, moody, magnificent, and micturating"?

  7. Oh heck, I don't even want to have characters have to take a tinkle (or, God forbid, number two). It's just not interesting. It's fiction, which is life minus the parts that aren't interesting. Pee and poo are on my list of not interesting.

    Now farts, that's another kettle of fish altogether.

  8. I don't think I've ever read about trouser wetting! Mustn't be reading enough thrillers...!


  9. As long as you don't start writing about it, Nik...

  10. Ha ha! Well, I can't promise anything, but I think it's a pretty safe bet!

  11. Hi Lexi

    You'll be glad to know that in my book (also a thriller for those who aren't aware) none of my characters lose bladder control... despite going through some ghastly things.

    Clearly one cliche I don't have to worry about!


  12. Guy, I am pleased to hear it.

    But I must tell you off for not mentioning the name of your book, The Africa Reich.

    You should waste no opportunity!

  13. you guys are funny

  14. Jake, thank you.

    I am lucky in my commenters.

    (Keep it up, guys.)

  15. I can't be reading the right kind of thrillers. Oh no, hang on, Quiller is instructed to use the gents' prior to diving in Quiller Barracuda (Adam Hall, 1991ish (she says from memory, being too idle to walk three feet to the bookcase to check)). Does that count?

    But it doesn't half get in the way of the plot. Sigh.

    PS Lexi, has your bone mended yet?

  16. Haven't read that one.

    Alas, proximal humerus fractures are slow to mend. At least two more weeks for the bone to knit, then up to a year to regain full range of movement. That's with the right exercises. Dunno when I'll be able to cycle or drive.

    All very tiresome.