Sunday, June 24, 2012

Dressing Your Characters

Do you leave your characters undressed? When you mention their clothing, do you narrate descriptions (tell), or do you weave (show) them into your story? Do your characters' wardrobes reveal something about them, or do they usually get a shirt that matches their eye color?

Following is a selection of short fiction. As you read, watch for what you can infer about its characters and particularly look for how their clothing helps you draw those conclusions. Then think about how you can add new dimensions to your characters by simply paying more attention to their wardrobes.


If he went to the mall or home to change, Harold would be late for the meeting. He turned onto Aglett Avenue looking for the thrift store he'd noticed once. He braked at Jefferson, turned right and eased into a parking place just as a junker pulled out. Ten minutes left on the meter. Harold didn't expect to be as lucky inside, but immediately found three silk ties that looked new and could work with his suit and steel gray shirt. The gray-toned stripe with narrow bands of magenta complimented it better than the one he wore, now stained due to a waiter's mishap. Harold took all to the cashier's counter, and pulled a twenty from his billfold. If they cost more than ten apiece, he'd put one back.

The woman in front of him stood ready with a fifty. Harold's eye fell on the jacket lining and satin label as the desk clerk took the customer's money. Sawatski Tailors--they catered to millionaires. Only the dry cleaning tags hinted that the suit was previously worn. Closing the drawer after the suit sale, the clerk looked at Harold's twenty. "Do you have a five?" She pointed to the woman who bought the suit. "I just used my last ten."

"Expired" popped up in the meter window just as Harold left the store. He smiled. The money the restaurant owner gave him would have paid for the three ties and a parking ticket. Marcia's outfit suffered the most from the spill, but if the stains washed out, she'd have gained a half a week's pay in addition to four free meal coupons and the afternoon off. God knows a single working mother deserves serendipity. Marcia probably netted less than welfare recipients. Did she know about the thrift store? She would in the morning. Maybe if she shopped there sometimes, she wouldn't mind checking the men's suits. 

- - - - - - - - - -

Your list may be more extensive, but here's a baker's dozen thoughts, indirectly stated, about Harold. He:
  1. Drives a late model car, kept in good repair. (Hint--Is Thrifty written from Harold's point of view? A certain car is a "junker." ) 
  2. Was conscious of his appearance.
  3. Probably did not shop at discount stores for his clothing. (Hint--no time to go to the mall)
  4. Had never been in a thrift store until he needed a tie.
  5. Would not have even thought about going into a thrift store had he not been pressed for time.
  6. Would not have expected to see nearly new clothing in a thrift store.
  7. Was a "nice guy." (Hint--what is his attitude toward the waiter?)
  8. Probably considered this one of his "lucky days."
  9. Likes Marcia.
  10. Admired Marcia's work ethic.
  11. Is probably more conservative than liberal politically.
  12. Without sacrificing his overall appearance, hopes to spend less on his wardrobe in the future.
  13. Is proud (car, clothing) but not overly so (willing to shop thrift stores in the future.)
What indicates Marcia's outfit does not look like a discount store special?
What tells us the restaurant owner is customer conscious? 
Does anything suggest Harold, Marcia, and others, if any, with them were polite to the waiter who caused something to be spilled on them? (Hint--consider basic human nature: attitude begets attitude.) 

(c) 2012, Bernice W. Simpson

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