One thing I want to see more of in Fantasy exploration books is mentioning the necessity for 'emptying ones bowles' and women on their period - human reproductive systems will generally not change purely because they are in a new world.

Going off of the rule 'Write what you like to read' I would like to explore how to include my female protagonist on her period. I wouldn't go into explicit detail for a multitude of reasons but it does leave the question of what to write. There's also the question of whether to write it at all as it doesn't add to the plot and isn't a subplot though I'm sure cramps and such would be a factor somewhere.

I think it would be very interesting to include as it could be eye opening for the male audience and interesting for the female audience to read as it is another way for them to relate to my protagonist.

My main questions are:

  • What areas should I discuss and how detailed should I write?
  • Would it add or take away from the story?
  • One does not have to "hang out all the laundry" even in a novel. There is a respect that needs to be shown all sexes. Modesty still matters.
    – ray grant
    Commented Mar 22 at 20:01
  • What do you mean to by that? It is unclear Commented Mar 22 at 20:07
  • @ BubbleQueen - See Ben's Answer for clarification. Keep writing; it's great for the soul.
    – ray grant
    Commented Mar 22 at 20:17

2 Answers 2


A novel is not a travel guide or ethnological treatise that describes a place and the everyday life of its people in all its aspects. A novel is a narration of everything that is relevant to its story. The narrative does not contain anything that is self-evident, obvious, banal, and commonplace for the reader such as that people have hair or need to sleep or that women menstruate. Only when there is a deviation from the norm, such as that a person loses their hair or a character cannot sleep or menstruation is handled differently in the fictional world – that is, whenever something normal and common becomes abnormal and uncommon – or if it is relevant to the story – that is, whenever something normal and common affects the progression of the plot – are they mentioned in the narrative.

This doesn't, of course, mean that you mustn't write a story in which the period of a character is mentioned, even if it is commonplace.

  • Just like a detective's alcohol problem or a sword fighter's love affair can either serve to develop the character more fully or become an obstacle for their goals, the sword fighter's menstrual cramps might give their enemy an opportunity to escape or show a part of the detective that makes her more real to the readers.
  • And menstruation or defecation might be a theme for a narrative.

When I was dating a single mother and getting involved with her baby daughter as an ersatz father of sorts in the late 1980s, most fantasy still was about untethered heros unimpeded by the demands of family life. From my personal experience, I began a fantasy novel about a wandering single mother sword fighter. Fantasy literature has vastly changed since then and there are many fantasy novels about mothers, fathers, and what having a child in a fantasy world means by now, but menstruation and defecation are still a rare topic, so if you have something interesting to say about these topics, that might result in a fascinating read.

But be careful not to make it boring or gross. Most people don't want to read about feces. And don't put something in a story just because it is a normal part of life and most stories don't mention it. A detective who constantly brushes their teeth, however medically sensible in real life, will quickly begin to irritate your readers. Think about how fantasy writers include the saddling of horses or getting dressed or preparing meals into their stories: sometimes these menial tasks are mentioned, usually while the characters talk, and usually in passing. Handle menstruation and defecation the same way and you will be on the safe side.


As the risk of sounding snippy, you have already answered your own question: "Write what you want to read."

As for what to include and how detailed you should be look to other fantasy novels written by prominent female authors: Marion Zimmer Bradley's the Mists of Avalon or Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale.

To the best of my recollection, The Mists of Avalon doesn't directly bring up menses. Whereas The Handmaid's Tale puts the subject front and center.

One reason for this is because of the differences between Literary Fiction (Handmaid's Tale) and more traditional Fantasy (Mists). Literary fiction has more license to deal with the nitty gritty of emotions and physicality of being alive. Fantasy is more about adventure. Certainly, The Mists of Avalon is more literary than Conan since Mist's focuses a lot on the characters' emotional states. It doesn't go so far as James Joyce's 'Finnegan's Wake' --- which I just read isn't considered Literary but is considered Experimental fiction.

That might also be a path to decide how far to go in your story, read as much Experimental fiction as you can tolerate. I have a limited capacity for reading those works -- couldn't get past page 4 of Mrs. Dalloway. Wrecked my head.

I also think you are asking how much will the audience tolerate of this subject. Most adults are very familiar with menses. The reader's tolerance is likely to be determined by your skill as a writer to make the details engaging and interesting and relevant to the story.

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