Writing process

Bathing in a tub

What’s wrong with this?

The tub and hot water Brianna had paid an extra copper for arrived promptly. Gods be praised. She couldn’t wait to be clean. She stripped quickly, dropping her filthy tunic on the floor in her eagerness to get to the water.

Afterwards, she lay back in the tub and washed her hair. It floated like a halo around her face, the blonde reddened by the dust of three weeks on the road that now coloured the water.

So what’s wrong with it?  Apart from being a rather ordinary tale of a traveller in a fantasy novel, that is.

Have you ever bathed in a tub of water?

Tubs of the type an innkeeper might carry up to a room aren’t that large. They don’t even contain a lot of water. Sure, you can bathe in them, but the usual way you do it is as follows:

  • You soap yourself down first
  • Then you get into the tub
  • You can’t sit with your legs out straight. You have to pull your knees up. All the way up to your chin if you’re one of those long-legged, muscular heroes that authors (like me) love to write about.
  • You wash the soap off.

Washing your hair?

Not by laying down in the tub, that’s for sure.

If you’re small, and the tub’s big enough, maybe you could scoop some water to pour over your head. It’s not going to be a good wash.

More likely you’ll do it out of the tub. Use the pitcher to scoop up some water, lean over the tub and pour the water over your head. You could dunk your head in the tub if you like, and let the hair float around you then.

But you’d have to be a contortionist to lay back in the tub and wash your hair at the same time.

Building worlds in science fiction and fantasy is immensely satisfying. Yet sometimes it’s the little things that we take for granted in our own time that trip us up. Those of us who write fantasy know nowadays that we can’t gallop our horse for days on end. We know how impractical stews are to cook on the trail.

Our characters, too, don’t normally think of everyday ablutions unless something is different. As an author you can’t draw attention to the things a character wouldn’t think about. For example:

Brianna soaped herself down quickly, and stepped into the tub. She was so tall and lanky her knees came up to her chin. Gods but she hated these tiny tubs.

gets the message across, but it doesn’t work for me. Not unless she bathes elsewhere most of the time and we’ve already established that.

Brianna stepped into the tub, wincing as she put her full weight on the injured leg. She stopped. She couldn’t bend her knee, and the tub was too small to lower herself into it one-legged.

She was damned if a twisted knee would stop her getting clean. She raised her voice. “Trantor.” Trantor was the strongest of her team, even if he wasn’t the largest.

The deep laughter outside the room stopped.

“Get in here.” She grabbed at the side of the tub as her leg threatened to give way. “I need some help.”

Works better, and it has the added advantage of moving the story forward too.

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