This was a guest post by C.S. Boyack done on March 19.
The doorbell rang at the writing cabin, and Lisa Burton the robot girl answered. “Charles Yallowitz, what brings you out here?” She gave him a huge hug.
“Hi, Lisa. I was talking to Craig about fashion in fiction and he told me to come back for a chat. After all, this really isn’t my area of expertise outside of magical armors, so I thought he would be a better source for my blog readers.”
“He’s back in his office. Let me get you some coffee, and I’ll take you back.”
They walked to the back of the cabin, and Lisa situated everyone on the couch and recliner.
“Thanks, Lisa,” Craig said.
“You’re welcome, but if you think I’m leaving you’re crazy. If you boys are talking outfits, you’ll probably need me.”
“I’m pretty sure you’re right. Honestly, I was hoping you would be sitting in on this conversation. So, one big question is how much attention should be given to a character’s outfit in a story.”
“I never gave it much thought, really. Obviously, you want to get it right for the overall setting. You don’t want one of those Marie Antoinette hairstyles on a Marine Corp cadet–
“It’s called a pouf.”
“What’s that, Lisa?”
“The hairstyle is called a pouf. I knew you guys would need me.”
“I’m just trying not to imagine soldiers running into battle with beehive hairdos. So, you would suggest add as much as you can?”
“I learned when writing about a setting, to include three elements and let the reader’s imagination do the rest. It seems to work well, and clothing can be looked at as setting, but only sometimes.”
“Kind of like fill-in-the-blank stories, but with a little more guidance. When wouldn’t you call it setting?”
“In some cases, it’s part of the character. If you write about a criminal, maybe mention that he put on some kind of black tactical garb. In your case, maybe the hero buckles on his sword belt. Other characters might be deeply involved in how they look. It wouldn’t do to write something about Lisa without mentioning her outfit.”
“Why is that? Love the polka dots, by the way.”
Lisa leaned forward. “Thanks, but it’s because my image is important to me. It can be used to reveal a bit about my character. I might spend an hour getting my hair right, but Craig’s character Clovis might grab something off the floor and pull it on without a second thought. That reveals a bit of his character too.”
“I think I get the gist of it. So, for example, having Nyx wear red since she uses fire magic or giving Sari a variety of skirts since she’s fairly image conscious. On the other end of the spectrum, I would have someone like Timoran who wears simple clothes because he has no concern for his appearance beyond hygiene.”
“I think you’ve got it down.”
“Not so fast,” Lisa said. “What about comedy? You always said discomfort is a big deal in stories too. Aren’t you going to talk about that?”
“I suppose we–”
“I’d like to get into that, if you have time.” Charles tugged at his collar. “That raven makes me uncomfortable.”
“That’s a good example right there. Nobody cared that you even have a collar, until you made that motion and talked about Doubt. Don’t worry about him, he makes everyone uncomfortable.”
“Actually, I’ve got another thing about ravens right now because . . . Anyway, is that the only time something like that could be used?”
“No, I don’t have a rule, but it might be if the clothing is important to the scene, then give readers some idea of what it looks like. A bum with multi colored patches on his pants says a lot about his need to make things last. A girl who has to keep tugging her skirt down makes for discomfort at a press conference.”
“Okay, let’s say I have Lisa taking a train to a meeting. She snagged her cashmere sweater when she sat down. Now it’s unraveling. Maybe she tries a dab of nail glue, but it keeps unraveling. now we’re using a countdown clock to increase tension, but it’s also kind of funny in a wardrobe malfunction kind of way. She’s going to have to choose between the meeting and her modesty. How she solves the problem doesn’t matter. Because it’s Lisa she’s likely to solve the problem. She might buy something using an app, pick it up and change, before getting back on the train. She might mug someone in the lady’s room too.”
Lisa held up her hands. “That’s a bunch of crap! How can you ruin a cashmere sweater like that?”
Craig gestured at Lisa with an open palm. “Get it, that’s character for you. She doesn’t care about her modesty, or mugging someone, as much as ruining one of her sweaters. A different character might be worried about something else.”
“So, gum on Lloyd’s shoe would draw attention to his sneakers. Luke steps in manure, and it’s time to mention what kind of boots he wore. I think I’ve got this. No cowboys accidentally wearing space suits. That kind of thing.”
Lisa said, “Unless you wanted a cowboy wearing a space suit. It might make for a great opening to a dystopian adventure, and you could explain it deeper in chapter one.”
“So then would I mention three things?”
“I’d consider it, and even test it out,” Craig said. “If you write it and it doesn’t work, you don’t have to keep it. Maybe the glass in his helmet has a crack that makes it look like lightning everywhere. His gloves are hot, but the horse doesn’t have anywhere to tie them so he leaves them on instead of losing them. Finally, I’d mention something about the saddle, just to make the image complete.”
“What can you say about a saddle?”
“Depends on what you’re going for. If it says USSR on the side, it becomes a plant that you can payoff later.”
Lisa said, “Or it says Fendi on the side. Maybe it’s a girl astronaut, and her horse is named Lilac, and she’s on her way to the last mall on the ruined planet.”
“Um, yeah. We’re the authors here. Why don’t you see if Charles would like some more coffee?”
“Thanks, but I should probably be heading home. Kind of left a character in a life and death situation. Mid-paragraph too. Again, thanks for clearing all of that up. Fashion is a lot more difficult than I realized.”
“Anytime, and come visit us again sometime. Remember to make it about the setting and the character. A skate park or the symphony might benefit from some clothing description as setting. Someone in a trench coat might tell us something about his character.”
I was born in a town called Elko, Nevada. I like to tell everyone I was born in a small town in the 1940s. I’m not quite that old, but Elko has always been a little behind the times. This gives me a unique perspective of earlier times, and other ways of getting by. Some of this bleeds through into my fiction.
I moved to Idaho right after the turn of the century, and never looked back. My writing career was born here, with access to other writers and critique groups I jumped in with both feet.
I like to write about things that have something unusual. My works are in the realm of science fiction, paranormal, and fantasy. The goal is to entertain you for a few hours. I hope you enjoy the ride.
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