What are they Wearing?

There are quite a few articles about that recommend the tricks and methods writers can learn from the movies.  A couple can be found here, here and here.

This week though I’d like to scribble specifically about the costumes that characters have.  There is a really good website called Clothes on Film which talks about how the costume of characters in films tells the viewer information about them.

You may be thinking this isn’t very useful because you don’t have images in a book so the fine details aren’t really important.  I’d argue that a writer is prompting the reader to create their own visual image and therefore costumes can still really work to build a character, more so than information on hair colour, eye colour etc.  Although these things do help a great deal they are what the character has been ‘born’ with, not necessarily how they choose to present themselves.

This has all been in the forefront of my mind as ‘My Book’ is set in the Regency Period. That means that means learning a whole new set of cultural indicators that would have been obvious then but may not be apparent today.  Austen uses costume so subtly that you could miss it, but then she was writing at a time when her readers would be aware of social conventions and would automatically be able to fill in the blanks.  The implication that Frank Churchill would be in mourning dress while discussing his love for Jane Fairfax with Emma Woodhouse illustrates that black clothes do not always reflect the level of grief.

Some less than subtle details appear in Abercrombie’s The First Law Trilogy when Inquisitor Glokta is first encountered. He’s walking with his cane and a crippled leg.  The noises Abercrombie describes – the tap of the cane, the step of the healthy foot followed by the dragging of the ruined foot behind – is a really strong image that stays with you and is incorporated into the characters thought process to reveal the sort of person he is.  The cane itself also comes into its own in the last book as an important representation of his character and how that has changed over time.

Another example is in The Silver Pigs by Lindsey Davis.  The hero stands on the steps of the temple of Jupiter watching a young girl run towards him and the details of her bracelets, make up and hair all tell him she’s a rich young girl who wasn’t expecting to be sprinting through The Forum when she was dressed that morning.  The hero’s observation that the girl is wearing too many clothes also reveal his character to us.

Costume’s can also be symbolic of characters in books as well as in films. In Jim Butcher’s Fool Moon when the hero, Harry Dresden, looses his coat he consequently feels like less than himself until it can be replaced.

Costume changes are also important moments.  Hermione Granger getting beautified in The Goblet of Fire makes her friends see her in a new way.  Harking back to Abercrombie, when the practicals (the Inquisitor’s assistants) remove the masks covering the bottom half of their faces they become different people to those that are looking.  Or they can be grander, plot changing moments, when Gandalf completes his transition from grey to white.

Costume can reveal a myriad of information about characters, and not always the character that is doing the wearing.  The shush of a ball gown can also help to set the scene or define a character and make them more memorable in the reader’s imagination.

What do yours wear?

And if you want a freebie that I’ve found really useful for more general character development you can get an e-book from K.M Weiland’s blog here.



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