1. Auxuris
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    Auxuris Member

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    Clothing

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by Auxuris, Jan 10, 2014.

    Heyho there,

    So, I've always had this problem of describing what my characters are wearing. Nothing difficult with the description but clothes in particular I have issues. Its not the content/description part, but more of the setting and how to add the description in. I just find it weird when some people decide to put in a whole description about their character's attire in the middle of describing the situation etc. Mostly I do it if it comes up, like a scarf when the wind is bitter, or track shoes in the mud. Without these triggers, however, I forget entirely. Its just totally not me to add in a 'she was wearing a blue blouse with a matching scarf and jeans' even when introducing a character for the first time. 'She had blue eyes' or 'his nose was unusually long', yes, but not shirts or accessories.

    How do you describe your characters' clothing? Where do you conveniently add it in in a paragraph and which part of their attire? Is it even needed/necessary?

    Also, when I find the type of clothes too awkward like a suit or something, I can't bring myself to write it in either. I'm more interested in writing the plot and feelings than clothing. When I first started off, my writing had absolute nada on attire. But from what others write, it seems important to add that in at least a bit. Any way to improve on that? c:
     
  2. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    Well, that was my first question. What purpose does it serve in your story? Only you can answer that question.

    And it looks to me as though you have.
     
  3. Auxuris
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    Auxuris Member

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    If it isn't important then why does everyone else write about it?
     
  4. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    To begin with, I don't agree that "everyone" does. But to the extent that they do, it can only be to serve a purpose in the story. If I'm writing a mystery, then clothing might be a clue, and so what someone was wearing becomes important to the story. Clothing might also be a way to underline differences in class or circumstances. In a historical novel covering a wide expanse of time, they might provide additional cues to the reader for the setting of a part of the story (in my current project, I do this, but only very sparingly). If it doesn't serve a specific purpose in your story, then it just becomes a distraction for the reader.

    You also mentioned an aversion to writing about suits. But if the character is a big time attorney meeting in his office with a high-powered corporate client about how to defend a multi-billion dollar class action lawsuit that your protagonist is bringing, you don't have to tell us he's wearing a suit, or how crisply his shirts are starched. We're there.
     
  5. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    Where are you reading these heavy clothing descriptions? Published works? Some writers do enjoy clothing their characters more than others. I was reading Dan Simmons' The Terror this morning while waiting for breaky at the bakery down the street and noted he was dressing his characters rather heavily in the opening scene. He does that. Not all writers do, though, and even in the scene I was reading, the dress was rather important as it takes place on the deck of an ice breaker and the bundling in which each person is ensconced is pretty much all the POV character can see at that moment. But the kind of now let me tell you what she was wearing paragraph of which you speak in your OP is off-putting to me. If it's not tied into what's happening, I can dress the characters myself.
     
  6. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    Translation, please.
     
  7. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    Breakfast. ;) In this case a ham, egg and cheese sandwich in P.R. bread, pressed like a medianoche (cuban).
     
  8. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    Thank you. But now I have to ask how medianoche translates to a cuban. I thought that was simply cubana (my apologies for the missing tilde).
     
  9. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    Not a translation; just a different name for the same sandwich. ;) And even that's arguable. Some make a distinction between the two by the kind of bread used. Others make no distinction and interchange the words.

    (There's no tilde on cubana, and it would be masculine, cubano)
     
  10. Auxuris
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    Auxuris Member

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    Guys lol I understood somewhere till important clothing description and breakfast then lost track completely at medianoche and cubanas what just even ahahahaha

    Anyway well, yes I read them in books when someone describes their friend wearing a pink -whatever- on a new day of school, they actually describe multiple friends when they walk into class etc, and it happens through the story quite a few times. Also, when the MC changes clothes they say: "I put on a striped vest with a matching -something-....", where I would usually just write 'I changed quickly".

    Authors actually describe that yes so I don't get what you mean by 'we're there'. Apparently there's a need to know the colour of the suit and tie?
     
  11. AnonyMouse
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    AnonyMouse Contributing Member Contributor

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    I wouldn't describe it unless it says something about the character or the situation that hasn't already been said. The above example of the high-powered attorney is a good benchmark to go by; if you've already established he's a "big corporate" type, you don't need to describe that he's dressed like a big corporate type. In this instance, the description is only necessary if his attire breaks the typecast or says something more about his character. If he's in a hot pink suit, for example, that might be worthy of mention, as it diverges from the typical corporate mold.

    If you are determined to slip extra descriptions in, I would do so covertly. Rather than pause the scene to describe his shoes, simply mention that "the broken glass crunched under his rugged boots as he entered the room." Not only does this keep the scene moving, but you've killed two birds with one stone: you described the scene (broken glass on the floor) and the character (rugged boots). Heck, you could take it a step further by describing his walk: "broken glass crunched under his rugged boots as he confidently strode into the room."

    Anything is possible. Feel free to describe as much or as little as you like, but remember: you can get away with only as much as your writing ability and your reader's attention span will allow.
     
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  12. Auxuris
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    Auxuris Member

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    Hot pink suit omfg that image of an attorney walking in HAHAHAHA

    Yesh, thank you by the way, that helped.
     
  13. Glacial
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    Glacial Member

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    I think @AnonyMouse has the right idea. Personally I don't bother describing clothing unless:

    A) There is something particularly interesting or unusual about the clothing. For example clothing to extreme weather conditions, or something very elegent, or even the other spectrum with nothing but mismatched-poorly fit well worn hand-me-downs. Basically when it's something unusual (to most people) I like to talk about it a bit. It's interesting to me and helps set the scene.

    B) Like Anony said, if there is some contrast in the character's clothing to the actual character or setting.
     
  14. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    First of all, my apologies for the brief hijacking of your thread. @Wreybies is my source on issues relating to Spanish language.

    But as far as what you have seen, it may well be that the writer was setting a mood. No one is saying not to do that if you want to. All I'm saying is that it isn't a requirement. Also, I'm wondering if you might be referring to something that is specific to a certain genre (e.g. romance or YA) where it would be more expected by the readership.


    What I meant was that if you describe the setting that I did in that post - which would probably be more tied in with other aspects of the story, such as the character's status as a high-powered attorney, the story of the lawsuit - then telling me he's in a charcoal grey suit, crisply starched white shirt and striped tie isn't doing anything to advance the story. It might even be a distraction. Now, if, later on, the lawyer is forced to do something abhorrent - say, to destroy evidence that he knows will defeat the suit and allow thousands of people to be killed - then the description of the clothing may be useful as you describe him standing at the sink in the men's room, gasping for breath, his tie loosened, collar open, shirt wilted and armpits stained with sweat. See, then you're using the contrast in his appearance to give the reader a clear picture of him in the throes of panic.
     
  15. David K. Thomasson
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    David K. Thomasson Contributing Member

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    Your last question is key. The most important thing to ask about any description, whether clothing or hair or something else, is how it will help advance the story. If it doesn't help, it doesn't belong. A couple of examples.

    I wanted to convey, early on, that there was something psychologically amiss with this character. Describing his clothing helped to do that:

    The deacon was a study in contrasts. His cheap polyester suit had lopsided shoulder pads, coat sleeves that stopped above his shirt cuffs, and trousers that crumpled up on top of his shoes. He’d evidently never heard of a tailor. His necktie, on the other hand, was top-shelf goods—finely woven silk with a tasteful pattern, like something he’d have to order from Harrods of London. And then there was his personal hygiene. The yellow teeth and sour breath made Bolt wonder whether he owned a toothbrush. But the meticulously styled hair was vintage Hollywood. Judging by those flowing waves, his hair stylist must have been trained in aeronautical engineering.

    In another chapter I wanted to contrast a stylish and very sharp woman attorney with the dowdy and much less talented male opposing counsel. Again, clothing descriptions helped with that:

    She sat down. Now it was Fore’s turn, and the contrast was striking. His clothing consisted of a brown plaid sport jacket, khaki trousers, and chocolate oxfords with thick rubber soles. He was developing the paunch of a man who spent too many hours at a desk. And though he was seven months shy of his thirty-fourth birthday, his sandy hair had thinned to the point where he was already hiding his scalp under a comb-over. If Megan Ashcraft looked like an athletic model, Henry Fore could have passed as a department manager at the local Kmart.

    Just ask yourself at every turn, What work does this or that bit of description do to help the story? Nothing should be allowed to just go along for the ride.
     
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  16. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    The main reason for describing clothing is to establish that the POV character pays attention to clothing, or to what it barely covers.
     
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  17. KaTrian
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    KaTrian A foolish little beast. Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I'd say, describe when it adds something to the scene or characters. Maybe it tells something about the pov, or about the character, foreshadows something they may be about to do, etc. I have characters, mostly men actually, whose attires I haven't described apart from the military uniforms. When on R&R, they wear jeans and a tee or something, but it's not terribly important. Here are a few examples (albeit quite tongue-in-cheek -- you could do this seriously as well!)
    Lise plopped her head out of the turtleneck she had gotten lost in.

    Without further ceremony, he pulled down his jeans and put his fists to his hips, showing Amélie his navy-blue boxers with a print of a growling bobcat on the right boxer leg.
    “Amélie, meet Alowishus. Alowishus, meet the most beautiful girl you’ll ever see.

    ...he gave her leather-veiled thigh a gentle poke.

    So I think there're ways to incorporate clothes and attires without forcing them in, but neither do I see a problem in not describing them. It's up to you. Your reader will clothe (or unclothe) your characters in their heads, fill in the blanks. Personally I like descriptions of clothing, yet some people find them superfluous or amateurish or something. It also depends on your characters and what they do in your story. If you've got, say, a woman who likes attention, she might dress provocatively, in a short skirt and a tiny top. If you had a male character, he might notice this, "her skirt barely reached below her perfect little buttocks," etc. If you wrote historical fiction, it's half-expected that you show what the characters are wearing to create a sense of authenticity.
     
    Last edited: Jan 11, 2014
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  18. Auxuris
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    Auxuris Member

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    @Glacial: That makes sense, thanks!

    @David K. Thomasson: Ohh yes your examples helped quite a lot, thank you.

    @EdFromNY @Cogito: Ah yes, genre, now it makes sense. I can't believe it never occurred to me. Thanks!

    @KaTrian : I love your writing. Thanks for the advice!
     
  19. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    I'd say that it matters when it matters. For example, in Death of a Mystery Writer, by Robert Barnard, the character Bella is beautiful, and that includes perfect, flawless clothing--an almost superhuman level of wrinkle-free perfect. Bella's beauty and apparently effortless visual perfection is relevant in all of her relationships. It's one reason why she's her father's favorite child. It's one reason why her relationship with her far less beautiful mother is a little shaky. It's a big reason for her confidence. It helps her to drive a wedge between a husband and wife early in the book.

    But it's still not detailed visually, but instead in terms of its impact:

    As it was, Bella turned up crisp and delectable in ravishingly close-fitting shirt and slacks which cried aloud of fashion and expense.

    We don't know the style of the shirt and slacks, or the fabric, or the color, and we don't care.

    Later:

    Bella was in travelling gear, but managed to show no signs of travel: How could anyone contrive to look like an ice lettuce on a hot summer's day, her mother wondered? Her make-up was bright and unsmudged, her blouse looked as if it were straight from the shop hanger, there was not a bulge in her slacks. It was almost inhuman.

    Later, things start to go wrong for Bella:

    Bella was looking less than her perfectly groomed self... Her hair was falling around her shoulders with hardly a wave, and some of her make-up looked left-over from last night.

    This doesn't happen to describe a similar deterioration in her clothes, but it could.

    Now, there could be any number of reasons why more clothing details--color, fabric, style, designer--could matter, but they should matter because there's a good plot or character reason for them to matter.

     
  20. KaTrian
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    KaTrian A foolish little beast. Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Glad to be of help, and thanks, but all my writing is also my writing partner's writing (see the sig), and I'm fairly sure if there's anything in it that works, it's thanks to him :D
     
  21. Auxuris
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    Auxuris Member

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    Ah yes I saw it and it got me confused as to who to address HAHA /notkidding
    So I decided heck I'm just gonna use your username and the tag thing appeared so I used it for everyone else as well.

    you and your partner make a great pair at writing then
     
  22. KaTrian
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    KaTrian A foolish little beast. Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Thanks :) He's @T.Trian here, by the way. We do write individually at times too, but it's most fun when done together.
     
  23. Auxuris
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    Collab writing sounds fun yes.
    Though I'm not quite sure how it would work. Do you guys like take turns write a sentence each or chapters. Because the former is fun to the point of silliness however the latter sounds like it makes more sense but doesn't give the fun feeling of a collab. Or do you two work with google docs and just add in parts whenever? c:
     
  24. KaTrian
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    KaTrian A foolish little beast. Staff Supporter Contributor

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    It's difficult to explain. Our writing is pretty verbal, so we weave the story while we type, our ideas conjoining as we speak/write. I honestly can't quite explain the process, lol.
     
  25. Auxuris
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    Ah so its more of collaborative plotting?
     

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