Playing Dress Up With Your Characters

Paper Dolls — Playing Dress Up With Your Characters

Writers Write is a comprehensive writing resource. In this post, we discuss playing dress up with your characters.

The great thing about writing fiction — and something we often forget about — is that we get to make stuff up all the time. It’s like being a kid again, playing with your fashion dolls or action figures. We don’t only get to invent characters but we also get to dress them up.

Step back in time!

I was watching a YouTube video of an 80s hit and read a subscriber’s comment. She wrote that the song brought back a memory her teen years: rollerblading in a parking lot with her Walkman. In my mind, I had such a vivid picture of character and that character’s place in time. I was also flooded with my own sense of nostalgia.

Time’s tailor

Here’s a fun experiment. Make up a character or take a character from your existing story and spend a few minutes dressing them up through the decades. If you have two lovers —  say, Jack and Victoria — ask how they would dress up in a different time?

1940s: Jack might be wearing an Air Force uniform if he’s serving in World War 2, his hair shaved short. Or a zoot suit and fedora if he was a gangster. His hair would be slicked by with Vitalis or Brylcreem.
1950s: Victoria may be a fashion model, photographed in a silk Dior dress. Or maybe she wears the tight waist and wide skirt of a rock ‘n roll girl — and wears her first pair of denims on the weekends.
1960s: Jack is a big Beatles fan, with tighter pants, longer hair, and a peacoat jacket. Or he’s an up-and-coming businessman in a slim black suit and tie.
1970s: Victoria is maybe a mother of a one, wearing chocolate corduroys and a turtleneck sweater. She paints the spare room, wearing her favourite dungarees, as she prepares for baby number two.

Yes, fashion may seem a superficial way to start building a character — but it does give you a shorthand to the type of character you’re writing about. It gives you an immediate mental image of the character, which might make them more real to you as a writer — and more real to the reader.

Playing Dress Up With Your Characters

Fashion changes — character stays constant

While fashion is always changing, you’ll realise your character is consistent. That’s what this exercise will show you. If Jack is a typical hero, he’ll dress like hero no matter what period you place him in — even if you back to Roman times, he’d be dressed up as a gladiator. If Victoria is a typical rebel, the way she dresses will always reflect that.

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Posted on: 20th August 2015

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