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  1. christinacantwrite

    christinacantwrite Member

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    How important is it to describe clothing?

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by christinacantwrite, Aug 27, 2016.

    My story is in third person, from the MC's POV (close third?). It's fantasy in that its set in an imaginary Earth long before globalisation began, but no magic and dragons etc. So far I've not described her appearance or clothing at all, other than mentioning that she wears cloth shoes. I have briefly described the clothing of one other character, as she sees it, but not in great detail. I think I will mention her hair colour/style but other than that I wanted to leave her physical appearance up to the imagination of the reader. But what about clothing? Is it best to describe it, and if so, in what detail?
     
  2. izzybot

    izzybot Human Disaster Contributor

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    It's really up to you. From what I know of fantasy and its audience (not an expert!), generous descriptions are pretty commonplace and appreciated - especially of period type stuff such as clothes, weapons, buildings - so if you're too scant with it there could be some disappointment and editors might ask you to beef it up somewhat to fit with the genre's typical conventions. That doesn't mean a more minimalist approach couldn't work, though, and I'd encourage you to write it how you want to / how you think works best.
     
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  3. Lifeline

    Lifeline The Dark - not in Wonderland Contributor

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    As I read it your setting is more or less contemporary, though back in Earth's history. I think for such a setting it is best to give the reader some hints to culture - and clothing is a way of culture expressing itself.

    The physical looks of the MC are another matter, but this is not the purpose of this post.
     
  4. Sack-a-Doo!

    Sack-a-Doo! Contributing Member Contributor

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    Unless a plot point revolves around it or it goes to understanding characters or their interactions, it's not important at all. And if you do have to bring it in, do it as briefly (no pun intended; I don't mean bring your characters in wearing only undergarments) as possible.
     
  5. christinacantwrite

    christinacantwrite Member

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    Thank you for your replies.

    This was my thinking, but then someone commented saying they'd rather see more clothing description. I think I will go somewhere in between.

    You both make good points. I'm wondering though... would descriptions of other people's outfits suffice? Since it is told from her POV, describing her clothes just seems forced (beyond the occasional 'her woollen skirt was not enough to shield her form the harsh winds'...). Whereas describing other people's outfits would be in the context of her understanding their role/status in society, and would also give an idea of culture.
     
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  6. Lifeline

    Lifeline The Dark - not in Wonderland Contributor

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    Sure! In fact I'd much prefer it this way :) Seems like a good solution to address the culture issue in my mind.
     
    christinacantwrite likes this.
  7. deadrats

    deadrats Contributing Member

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    I think you might have it backwards trying to leave out the physical descriptions of characters but somehow including a rundown or their wardrobe. Okay, that might be an exaggeration, but I don't often come across descriptions of what characters are wearing unless it is somehow important to the story. I would say you are going to be much better off with character descriptions than descriptions of their clothing.
     
  8. JLT

    JLT Contributing Member

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    I think that a brief mention of wardrobe goes a long way toward setting the scene for your characters, and putting them out of modern context. By "brief mention," I mean not going into great detail, but making it relative to the plot, like "As the snow started to fall, he decided to put on his heavy cloak before setting forth and leave the lighter one behind." That establishes the fact that cloaks rather than overcoats are used without dragging in superfluous detail like the fabric, edging, or whatnot. Unless, of course, it's a way of bringing in a plot point, as in "The dense weave of the woolen cloak, the edging of fox fur, and the gold clasps all gave testimony to the fact that the man standing before him was of no ordinary means."
     
  9. 7XshadowolfX7

    7XshadowolfX7 Member

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    I hate a book that doesn't describe clothing in a detailed and informative way. Because throughout the story I can struggle to visualise the MC. Hence my perception continues to change. Describing clothing is fundamental for the reader to get closer to the MC. Don't cut it short or miss details out. Remember The writer's perception and the readers will be different.
     
  10. deadrats

    deadrats Contributing Member

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    That's funny. I'm trying to search my brain for something I've read where clothing was actually described in any detail. I read a lot, but not one example of this is coming to mind. I'm not saying it's never there, but if it is, it's sure not something that sticks with me. I think that if a writer is going to include details like this, they should attempt to be clever enough with it that it blends into the story. A paragraph or two on what a character is wearing just stuck in there, could easily pull a reader out of the story or seem a bit like an info dump or sorts. I think it's something to keep that in mind when doing this. I would be interested to hear how the books you read handle this. How do these authors work in a character's wardrobe? My next question would be why? Was there a reason clothing was mentioned or described other than trying to create more a a visual for reader's to have when picturing these characters?
     
  11. christinacantwrite

    christinacantwrite Member

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    Haha I certainly won't be giving a rundown! I think I'll go with my instinct and forego all descriptions of clothing unless directly relevant to the action. This will probably end up being mostly descriptions of other characters' clothing in the way @JLT mentioned (great sentence btw!).

    I don't want to give much of a physical description of my MC because I just don't think it affects the story. It's implied that she's fairly athletic and agile from the plot, and I'll weave in something about her hair colour, but other than that, readers can make up their own minds how tall she is/skin colour etc as it doesn't make a difference one bit to the plot. I've heard that people tend to imagine characters looking similar to themselves, anyway.

    I hate books with detailed descriptions of anything! My brain switches off. Different strokes for different folks an' all :D
     
  12. 7XshadowolfX7

    7XshadowolfX7 Member

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    It's totally preference. But I must say I'm taking a fancy to your idea about the reader thinking about what the MC looks like. Guess I'm weird lol.
     
  13. Terathorn

    Terathorn Member

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    I've noticed with alot of fantasy/sci-fi books that i've read, the clothing outside of War-tech/battle garb/ armor, isn't always super detailed. Yes, there are brief descriptions but, from my experience, giving the reader just enough description, either by describing the MC in detail or describing random SC's attire; gives the reader the necessary imaginative material to create the fantasy for themselves. Long story short- write how you write, but write to give your readers an experience they couldnt get just anywhere.
     
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  14. Evren

    Evren New Member

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    In terms of clothing, I don't really think it is too important, unless it directly relates to plot, like the sleeve of a shirt being ripped. But, if it doesn't seem out of place it can still be okay too. Clothing can also help establish time period if you don't want to directly state where or when a character is. Other than that, it could just help establish details a little more. But if it's not in your writing, I don't see it being a problem :).
     
  15. Sharnie93

    Sharnie93 New Member

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    I don't think unless there is a specific piece of your plot that centres around the clothing it will be particularly important. I think if you let the reader use their imagination a bit it helps them connect with the character and makes them want to keep on reading :)
     
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  16. ÞunoresWrǣþþe

    ÞunoresWrǣþþe Banned

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    I never get this sort of advice. Not everything has to be vital to the plot, the setting or the characters.
     
  17. NiallRoach

    NiallRoach Contributing Member

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    Which, whilst true, is not necessarily an argument for including lots of irrelevant detail.
    Everything has to pull its weight, in some form.
     
  18. ÞunoresWrǣþþe

    ÞunoresWrǣþþe Banned

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    Again, I disagree. It's a very mechanical, newspaper-style pragmatic, Hemingwayian way of thinking. It's irrelevant if a tunic is hip-length or knee-length, but "he wore a knee-length tunic" is far better than "he wore a tunic".
     
  19. big soft moose

    big soft moose Contributing Member

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    its worthwhile if it adds colour to the readers view of the setting - but describing every item of clothing would rapidly get tiresome - also its better to mention it in passing it little bits throughout the writing than it is to give character descriptions as big chunks of expo.
     
  20. Sam Woodbury

    Sam Woodbury Member

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    This topic is interesting because I often find myself describing in detail the color of shirts or pants and shoes that my main characters are wearing, which seems excessive. I'm trying to write a story, not a JC Penney catalog entry. When I imagine characters from a story set in the 1980s I picture them in specific outfits from that time, something that I might have worn back then, but do I need to supply all the details or can a reader create their own image of that period?

    Since clothing is an important element of a character or a time period it should not be ignored, especially if the setting is an unfamiliar time period or fantasy world. This should require some detail when first introduced, followed by hints once the reader is familiar. Also it should be emphasized if it plays a role in the plot. Perhaps a particular order of evil wizards always wears red robes so the main characters would be on the lookout for that sort of clothing.

    On the other hand I probably do not need to provide so much detail for contemporary settings, like suits at a law firm or uniforms in a military setting. Both can go without saying unless someone is wearing something unusual. If the setting is a present day high school I do not have to belabor the point that most students are wearing jeans, but I might point out someone wearing a wizard robe.

    Clothing can bring out character elements. Some people would notice certain articles of clothing that other characters are wearing. Some people hate dressing up, so forcing them to do that would show an aspect of their character. And some people often wear unusual styles- bell bottoms in 2016 or a tuxedo when everyone else is in jeans. Such details are worth pointing out as an aspect of those characters.
     
  21. antlad

    antlad Banned

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    How much do you want your readers to imagine and how much do you want to force on them?
    I use the word 'force' because that is what it feels like to me. I have a hard time with a lot of books, simply because the author has decided to write an extra third of a book just to describe things.
    It cracks me up when people say 'Oh sos-and-so is a great writer. Everything has minute detail and you really get a sense for where it is.' I think the opposite; an author takes you on a journey of imagination, they don't sit you in front of a screen so you can watch a journey unfold. It was a big reason film caught on, anyone could show 'their' version.
     

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