1. King Arthur
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    King Arthur Banned

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    Describing clothing

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by King Arthur, Jun 19, 2016.

    How would you go about describing clothing? It's for a His-Fic novel so the aspect and descriptions of clothes are pretty important.

    Take this tunic, for example.
    [​IMG]

    If you need to go into detail/technical terminology, the swirly bits are orbiculi and the chest strips are clavii. The material is usually raw-coloured linen or wool.
     
  2. izzybot
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    izzybot Human Disaster Contributor

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    I'd probably just describe it as a white linen tunic with blue detailing. Maybe "intricate blue detailing", maybe "blue detailing around the neck, shoulders, elbows, wrists, chest, and thighs". Is it important to describe what the detailing is - eg does the pattern indicate status or job or something like that? Or is the color of it important? Then something like "intricate details dyed in [expensive dye material] blue, indicating that he was upper class" or "a white linen tunic with blue markings that showed he was a fisherman" or whatever. Stick to what's really important, what the clothing reveals about the setting and/or characters.
     
  3. King Arthur
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    It's more for painting a portrait of what they wore. Most people wore this kind of tunic with little variation, it doesn't tell much.
     
  4. taariya
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    taariya Member

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    Then you don't really need a detailed description. This is coming from someone who doesn't write/read fantasy so perhaps I'm out of touch with this sort of thing, but I have to second izzybot in saying to keep it simple.

    Now "simple" for me is saying that it was belted and white, maybe specifying that it had intricate blue detailing in bands down the sleeves and in vertical strips on the torso.
     
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  5. matwoolf
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    matwoolf Contributing Member Contributor

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    Erik strolled into the folk marquee, and looked a right berk, wore this kind of cheese cloth arrangement, something a Norwegian fisherman's wife might force him to wear at the chapel. He smelled of cod, and levered a horn goblet to his lips. Everybody on the [folk] scene hated Erik, or they were jealous of his authentic historical attire.
     
  6. Diane Elgin
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    Diane Elgin Member

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    You can describe the specific aspects of your clothing in any manner of your choosing. Just make sure the elements described show character, either in personality or in history.

    'He wore a white and blue tunic' tells me nothing except for he likes old clothes.

    'Elysno's loose tunic, white with navy trim in standard Sea Order fashion, was bound to his hips by an over-tight belt.' This suggests an allegiance to, position in and an exaggerated sense of commitment to 'The Sea Order'.

    Similarly, for personality;

    'Anarcho's gas mask dangled from the strand of his belt loop as he placed his shotgun muzzle to the ground, using the butt stock as a crutch as he smiled at the open chamber in front of him.'

    'Before entering the chamber, Anarcho strapped and strapped again his gas mask around the sides and back of his head but as he placed his first foot through the doorway his vision misted, nervous sweat evaporating onto the plastic.'

    Same item of clothing described. Two very different attitudes. Play around with what you're describing and see how you can use them to associate in your reader's minds the traits you want your characters to have.

    Hope that helps!
     
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  7. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    I think it's tempting as an author, especially an author who's done a lot of research, to want to include ALL the research in the novel. (We see this with fantasy world-building as well). I think what we're seeing in the comments here is a warning against that approach. Most readers want a story, not a history lecture. If the details of the clothing serve your story, include them as they are useful. But for most people's tastes, I think that will mean fewer details rather than more.

    Doing the research helps you create a vivid scene in your own mind, but as a storyteller it's generally best to pick only a few details from that scene to share, rather than describing the entire thing in detail.
     
  8. matwoolf
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    matwoolf Contributing Member Contributor

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    Yeah, I do it with over-drafting, same problem, almost. But I really like @King Arthur 's input, his story an all, the poetry - all has great ambition. Good luck to you Arthur, king, in waiting..
     
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  9. King Arthur
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    King Arthur Banned

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    I'll rectify what I said earlier actually: it's pretty important to the character.
    -Purple and yellow dyes were very expensive, so this indicates a rich man.
    -Wearing this at all suggests romanisation, which is a theme in the novel.
    -The patterns did often have significance to the man wearing them as clothes were "tailor-made".
    -More patterns = wealthier
    -Poor people would cut out the designs on expensive tunic and sow them on to their own crappy one. This could automatically show the character is pretty poor.

    Thanks for making me realise this. It's not even too hard to get the point across: most people know purple was a regal colour and that saffron was and still is more expensive than gold. "Purple embroidery" and "Saffron-dyed yellow tunic" conveys a lot, as does "He had sown the patches of an older tunic on."
     
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  10. King Arthur
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    King Arthur Banned

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    Cheers.
    I'm not under the illusion I can include everything. But after the Arthur novel I will probably move either slightly backwards or slightly forwards in history with another novel where all this is still applicable.
    And even then, I love learning so this is great.
     
  11. King Arthur
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    King Arthur Banned

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    It does, thanks a lot!
     
  12. matwoolf
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    matwoolf Contributing Member Contributor

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    Maybe you'd be fantastic with the non-fiction, Life of Alfred kind of thing, a history writer, and the male reading audience? I know - that's a generalisation to make the point.
     
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  13. King Arthur
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    King Arthur Banned

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    I like the freedom of historical fiction. Besides, I'm dealing with themes I couldn't get away with in real history.
    I'll check out Life of Alfred though!
     
  14. matwoolf
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    matwoolf Contributing Member Contributor

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    No, I mean it is the sort of thing you might write...where you can indulge detail...because the reader shares your thirst...
     
  15. King Arthur
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    I'll certainly give it a try.
     
  16. Mumble Bee
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    Mumble Bee The writer formerly known as Chained. Contributor

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    "Please don't make me wear that."

    Jeff hated white cloths. He'd been a sloppy eater since birth and a white shirt was the perfect canvas to inform the world what he'd eaten for lunch.
    Of course, it wasn't all white. There were some blue designs around the arms and elbows with big circles at the beginning of each limb, presumably to remind him in case he forgot where they were.
    The whole getup looked uncomfortable. Jeff felt itchy just looking at it, though not nearly as much as when he finally put it on.
     
  17. King Arthur
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    Uther's tunic was not well-kept. The elbows were scuffed, the designs fading and the sleeves rolled up to his arms. The linen billowed around at his waist, a remnant of the belly he once had.
     
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  18. King Arthur
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    He has three coins that depict loved ones he's lost. They dangle from his belt, any way to describe this without it being an info-dump?
     
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  19. Mumble Bee
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    Mumble Bee The writer formerly known as Chained. Contributor

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    You could have a street merchant try and sell him something, he'd tell them he's broke, merch would be like 'wtf bout them coins mate'
     
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  20. izzybot
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    izzybot Human Disaster Contributor

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    I don't think just mentioning one detail constitutes an infodump. You just just mention them jingling as he walks or something.
     
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  21. King Arthur
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    Eh, I'm conflicted. If there's too much description then the advice seems to be tone it down, though too little and the advice is to add more.

    There doesn't seem to be a middle-ground.

    Without decriptions of the clothing it's a bit boring, the novel becomes a list of people the reader can't imagine doing things.
    With historical fiction one interesting aspect is to bring back the reader to that time period. "White tunics" have been worn from 2016 to a good forty thousand years ago.
    Coptic tunics haven't.

    I'd like to avoid a boring atmosphere and feel.
     
    Last edited: Jun 20, 2016
  22. izzybot
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    izzybot Human Disaster Contributor

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    The amount of description people like varies a lot. You kind of just have to figure out what your own middle ground is and go with that. You can't please everyone. But yeah, from what I know of historical fiction, that crowd's more likely to want more description, so I wouldn't worry too much about going overboard unless every single reader is telling you it's too much.
     
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  23. King Arthur
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    King Arthur Banned

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    Yeah, I'll try and find my middle-ground.
     
  24. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    As long as the information is integrated into the story, I don't think you need to worry about info-dumping.

    Like, if there's a big battle scene and you break away from it for a couple paragraphs to explain the significance of the coins, that's an info dump. But if your character takes a moment of quiet reflecting before the big battle scene, runs his thumb over the familiar contours of the coins and says a silent prayer to one day be reunited with those he has lost, that's not an info-dump, that's characterization.

    Make sure your words serve your story, and you should be fine. It's when your words serve your research or your world-building rather than your story that you have an info-dump problem.
     
  25. Catrin Lewis
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    Catrin Lewis Contributing Member Contributor

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    Exactly. Somebody did all that blue embroidery [not "detailing," BTW] for him. Who? His mother? Wife? Lover? Is it getting a little frayed? Does he run his fingers over its texture on the cuff when he's nervous? Introducing that sort of business will supply clothing description and flesh out the character both at once.
     

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