Happy Friday, and welcome to the CAN Blog on Writing Fiction from Gail Gaymer Martin.
When writing a novel, authors can deepen characterization by adding elements to the novel that sends a signal to readers. These signals allow them to see deeper characterization by observing what a character chooses wear in a given situation. Not only can personality be seen, but often deeper character such as morals or values.
If your heroine comes through the door wearing baggy jeans, a large bulky sweatshirt, and a baseball cap set on her head backwards, what would a reader think? A tomboy? Perhaps. Or could she be a troubled girl trying to hid her sexuality? Had she been molested or raped? Had she been raised in a home of all boys and never learned to express her femininity? How she dresses shows a side of her that defines her personality and character, but the reason can only be discovered as readers get to know her.
Clothing types, styles, and color helps define a character’s personality and sometimes peculiarities. Readers decide if the character is eccentric, casual, prim, aggressive, flashy, or subdued from his or her choice of clothing. Does she dress like the hippy of the 70s, like an uptight business woman, or a frumpy matron? As real life people do, your characters can dress in a manner that states their individuality. They can cover flaws, use clothing to hid behind ,or even confuse others by what they wear. In a romantic suspense, a man wanting to hide from a killer tries to blend in with the crowd. He will change his appearance to take attention from himself. A young woman seeking attention will often dress in a provocative or inappropriate manner to draw attention to herself.
Plunging necklines defines a woman as does high-necked blouses or loose-fitting turtleneck sweater. We contrast the flashing woman exploiting her sexuality while a modest or shy woman might do the opposite. You can use clothing to identify your heroine’s personality.
We can recognize people trying to look chic and well-dressed when they have no flair for it. Their outfights might show the faux pas of their efforts — last years design or color, the wrong shoes with the dress style or gaudy jewelry that distracts rather than enhances. A male executive in an important position should know which to button on a three-button suit or how to tie a Windsor knot at the right length.
Clothing styles reflect age as well, and while tight jeans and the layered look looks good on a teen or younger woman, a woman in her fifties might leave others questioning her taste. As a writer, you can use these techniques to signal the reader as to the inner workings of your characters. Pick up a fashion magazine and take note of the styles. Look at a clothing catalog to see what most people wear, and pay attention to color. Colors change with the season and what was in style last year is out this year.
Some colors hold meanings so be alert. A red dress may not be worn by a demure young woman while a showy character would. Black can either be chic, signal grief, or alert a reader that the character wants to blend in with the woodwork. When describing color of clothing in your novels, use it to enhance something more purposeful. Let the blue match the color of her eyes or remind him of a cloudless day that takes him back to good memories. Let the gold flecks in his hair remind her of his sunny disposition. While readers like to know what characters are wearing, use it to enhance characterization or deepen the mood of the story.
As significant is style and color, how characters wears their attire is significant. Someone who is round shouldered and stooped is depressed or lacking confidence. A man wearing white socks to a business meeting looks as if he just left the farm. A female with clothes so loose-fitting her figures is obscured might be one with low self-esteem or, as mentioned earlier, one who is hiding her sexuality. Use unkempt characters to illustrate a lack of pride or the action of self-sacrifice for others.
Occupations can be reflect by attire. Dirt under the fingers nails could point to a man who works in a repair shop. An accountant might wear reading glasses. A librarian might dress fashionably but wear sensible shoes.
Whether tight or loose, casual or elegant, neat or unkempt, clothing adds three-dimensions to characterization so use it effectively with purpose. Mannerisms and idiosyncrasies also add realism and characterization in your novels and that will be covered in the next post.
© Gail Gaymer Martin 2015
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