How To Know When to Include Menstruation in Your Stories


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MENSTRUATION, i.e., the act of a woman's uterus shedding a month's worth of unused blood-lining, is not typically written about in novels.  Kind of strange, considering there are a BATOOKUS-TON of young adult female protagonists on the market these days.  Maybe they're all on the same cycle?  I don't know.  Could be.

ARGUMENTS AGAINST IT

First of all, ew!  |  Periods have never been taboo-talk in my family, so years ago I casually mentioned something about my period to an acquaintance.  My bad.  Judging from her shock, it is not such a free topic in her home.  This surprised me, because a) we're both young women, and b) therefore have periods.  Maybe I was wrong and she's a robot still trying to successfully integrate into society.  Oops.

This is super shocking, you guys.  |  Okay, yes, maybe if I went into detail - this is not your normal blood, guys: this is like, goopy, bomb-went-off, half-coagulated junk here - YEAH, that could be a real turn-off if I was reading this book.

We don't write people using the toilet, do we...?  |  So, you might ask, why write about a woman's period?

WHY YOU SHOULD WRITE IT

This is not the same as using the toilet.  |  A woman's period is more than just discharged blood.  It has a major physical and psychological impact on a woman, and both of those aspects heavily impact your character in a novel.  The monthly cycle is part of who we all are as women, something we bear, deal with, and overcome on a MONTHLY BASIS.  That makes us pretty awesome, considering.  Why deny that to your characters?  This is a human trait that has both oppressed and empowered women all across the world and through history.  WE CONQUER THIS.  SO SHOULD YOUR CHARACTERS.

WHY YOU SHOULDN'T GO THROWING UTERUSES ALL OVER YOUR PLOT

Let's not get carried away!  |  Maybe - MAYBE - there is a legitimate reason to have a character use the bathroom.  Otherwise, we just assume that they go between chapter breaks, you know?  It doesn't need press.  Likewise for periods.  Don't hurl them at your women for the mere sake of authenticity.

Periods need to improve/work with the plot.  |  If there is no point to having your character experience a period, DON'T PUT IT IN.  Personal anecdote: I chose to include menstruation in one of my manuscripts because it was a pivotal point to the plot.  (Still squeamish?  Look, I've already done it.  You're welcome!)

DIMENSION, EDUCATION, GROWTH

Emotional connection.  |  When appropriate, the addition of a character's menstrual cycle lends depth and authenticity to the plot.  We become more acquainted with her.  We share her struggles.  We appreciate what she overcomes.  We grapple with her when this handicap becomes a physical barrier to her progress.

Understanding.  |  For those who are not women (hi, guys!), and aren't acquainted with this monthly monster that we deal with, this is us.  Yes, we are the weaker vessel, but being weaker doesn't equal WEAK.  Millions of women across the globe shoulder this burden every. single. month.  We want you to know this so that you can better understand the inscrutable creature - woman.

The champion.  |  In your novels, as in my manuscript, this becomes a personal demon which pays no allegiance to time, weather, circumstance, and convenience.  The girl has to take the punch when it comes - there is no ducking.  But the act of getting up after a blow is what we ALL love to see in our characters.

have you ever included menstruation in a novel? do you think you ever would?

image via *drumroll* pinterest

22 ripostes:

  1. I love this so much. Main reason Katniss Everdeen annoyed me in the books: did stress take away her period???

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    1. THE WORST STRESS-SUPPRESSED PERIOD EVER. XD XD XD

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  2. Thing is, when I have encountered menstruation in novels/stories, it generally *shocks* the poor, unprepared heroine (and then once explanation has occurred is treated as dealt with), and I'm always like, ??? Why??? and that is a Least Favorite Trope that I would prefer be regulated to between chapter breaks.

    A prepared heroine would be a refreshing change, but hardly of narrative interest, so while I appreciate the suggestion that the heroine actually has to deal with it on a monthly basis--which would make it more than a blip in the story--I would have to see it done well a couple of times before I start considering the possibilities in my own work.

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    1. I, personally, don't usually wait to see something done well. If the "done well" is lacking, I just go ahead and do it myself because if you want something done RIGHT... XD

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  3. This is why adventure movies where directors randomly add in a female travelling across rugged terrain boggle my mind. How they handle their period while travelling over country they've never been in before, generally being the only female among a group of guys, suspends reality. Not that they couldn't--but the fact that nobody ever mentions it leaves me to think nobody ever thought through those logistics.

    This is really interesting to think about. Actually, Jane Kirkpatrick's Emma of Aurora trilogy, which I didn't particularly enjoy, was the first book I read that talked about a woman's physical limitations with pregnancy, hormones, and emotional cycles in a realistic way. I kept it around just to get tips from it.

    ~Schuyler

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    1. While it isn't always practical in terms of storytelling to include menstruation, it DOES baffle me that something SO. INCREDIBLY. COMMON. as a woman's period gets NO NOTICE AT ALL EVER ANYWHERE IN DAY-TO-DAY LIFE. I just - it's okay to joke about men's sexuality and bathroom humour, but no one ever mentions the month-to-month care and keeping of a woman and her hygienic needs? Say wha?

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  4. I agree. It can be used to immense effect in a story, developing both plot and character. Kudos to you for this post, Jenny!

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    1. Thank you! I'm so glad this post struck a chord with you! <3

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  5. Great point. I had the exact same problem when I mentioned something about my cycle and a friend was shocked. I mean, it's not vulgar, is it? It's woman-talk. At the same time, I don't really look at it as a handicap. It's certainly unpleasant at times, and it does require working around, but I would love to read some heroines who aren't either SHOCKED that they are suddenly bleeding (honey, use a calendar) or FURIOUS that they have this weakness. It's just like anything else in this fallen world that we learn to work with. Men figure out how to work with having to slave away to make money so their kids can go to college. Women figure out how to work with subconsciously thinking people hate them and having cramps at certain times. Bingo. Life after the Fall.

    Also I love that you mentioned how relatable it can make the character. We need more characters who face everyday challenges. I bet that would make the crazy challenges more believable.

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    1. Sometimes, the day-to-day struggles which we overcome are more important than the big one-off hurdles. Anyone can find the adrenaline to overcome a sudden, enormous obstacle, but it takes guts to gracefully deal with the daily grind.

      I think, for many of us, periods aren't SUPER HINDRANCES. They're just kinda messy annoyances that bring along the hormonal baggage - um, often sooner than we would like, I mean, it's been a month already how did that happen?? - so yes, less shock, more "Okay, this is me right now. Can someone please find me a bathroom?"

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  6. Robin Hobbs' The Liveship Traders trilogy isn't necessarily a series I'd recommend to most people, but I loved how Hobbs tackled the realistic issues of a woman living in what everyone else considers to be a man's world...including menstruation. It's definitely something I take into consideration, even if I don't put it into my story.

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    1. I can hardly imagine what it is like to be a woman living without the common blessings of a middle class life in a high-functioning nation. I need pads? I ask my husband and he gets some from the store. It doesn't break the bank. I have THREE totally functioning bathrooms with doors and locks and trashcans. I have a bath and a shower. But not everyone has these things - MANY women don't have these things. Place that factor in a situation like, I don't know, Queen Elisabeth I's, it's hard. For some reason there just isn't common decency and leeway for the month-to-month necessities of a woman's body.

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    3. And good painkillers. Because without my Ibuprofen, I'd spend one day each month groaning and vomiting and passing out if I tried to walk.

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  7. As far as books go, the topic of menstruation is like using the washroom. I don't want too much detail, but it makes me feel a wee bit better knowing that the characters have to deal with the same 'inconvenient necessities' that the rest of us have to deal with. (and it satisfies my 'hypochondriac' side, knowing that the character is taking the proper sanitary measures)

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    1. Yeah, I definitely don't recommend this (or much of anything) for the mere shock factor. I recommend including things like menstruation ONLY when they benefit the plot itself. I recommend that for any aspect of writing, really.

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  8. Congratulations for concocting an attention-grabbing title for your post. Lol. And I think you have a point. Like you said, it really should be regulated to the chapter breaks UNLESS it can affect the storyline. And, whether you mention it or not, as a writer you should consider it before putting your character in unrealistic situations.
    ...I'm still laughing over the way your title snagged me...

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    1. I chose not to include this in "Plenilune" because it wouldn't have benefited the plot. There was enough going on already without adding ONE MORE ASPECT to the storyline. But in a recent manuscript, I found it was a crucial point to the plot and I chose to add it. It just depends on what you're doing and what your plot is.

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  9. I totally think periods should be in novels! I think they're still suffering a bit under the "taboo" topic, which is just stupid. It's part of our body's function??? Why is that taboo?? Sure, it can be gross and painful and unpleasant BUT THAT IS LIFE. And I don't think books should sugarcoat life!
    (Gotta disagree with you on the "weaker vessel" aspect though. xD)

    OH. But there is another reason to not include them though, which I do think deserves attention...when a character is so malnourished and abused they simply don't HAVE periods anymore. :( I know readers sometimes get antsy that an action/adventure story has left exactly no time for a girl to have her period -- but it could honestly be that she's NOT having one. Like The Hunger Games for example....Katniss was starving. Later on, extremely stressed. Chances that maybe she had a very delayed or non-existent period = very high. XD I remember reading Rose Under Fire by Elizabeth Wein (EXCELLENT WWII BOOK BTW THAT WILL MAKE YOU BAWL; HIGHLY RECOMMEND) and when she first got into a concentration camp she still had her period and all the other women were jealous of her functioning body. So it can be realistic for a women not to have a period too. *nods*

    But otherwise...I think it should stop being a taboo topic! This is the way God made us! And you're 100% right that it affects our moods and decisions and appetite, so it's not just a tiny thing.

    Entirely epic (and needful post!) Jenny! :D

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    1. I don't know a lot of people but I know AT LEAST TWO PEOPLE who have erratic cycles because of stress-suppression. NOT FUN. The benefit of being on birthcontrol is that it regulates your cycle so nicely. XD

      "Rose Under Fire" (have not read! terrified of bawling!) is an excellent example of highlighting how healthy a period is for a woman. THIS IS NORMAL. THIS IS HEALTHY. THANK YOU VERY MUCH. *DROPS MIC*

      I could also post about a man's normal functioning body, but that would gross everyone out here and wouldn't be helpful in a story so I'll just leave now. XD

      (p.s. welcome to the penslayer, cait!!)

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  10. xD I don't let my female characters have periods because. . .they are not HUMAN. WOOOO. They have other things to over come.

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