The Devil’s in the Details: What are you wearing?

Anyone on the Swoon Reads board will tell you that I’m a stickler for details. If something can be standardized, documented, and organized neatly into an Excel spreadsheet—well, I’m going to make it happen. It’s not because I’m OCD. Okay, it’s not just because I’m OCD, it’s because details are important. Details help people to understand, to communicate better. The right details can bring something to life, make connections that weren’t otherwise there. And the wrong details? In my opinion, they can sink the ship.

“The Devil’s in the Details” is where I’ll share with you all of the small things I think you need to get right in your manuscript. They may seem minor, but they could also mean the difference between readers swooning over your work, or clicking through to the next.

The first topic I’ll discuss is clothing. I love clothes, in life and on the page. Maybe I’ve watched too much What Not to Wear, but I do believe that the way you dress sends a message to the world. Are you colorful and daring? Are you reserved and poised? You can ask the same questions of your characters, and write their wardrobe to reflect their personality. Trust me, it makes a difference to the reader if your heroine is wearing a pair of Sperry topsiders or Converse All-Stars.

I’m sure some people will disagree with me and say that a character’s wardrobe isn’t important. Au contraire, mon frère! I’m not trying to name-drop here, but I’ve got an example for you. The world’s most bestselling-est vampire love story in the history of time, Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight series, is my favorite case study. I assure you the following is not exaggeration: the descriptions of Edward’s clothing are entirely responsible for the fact that I never finished book one. Seriously! It wasn’t the sparkly vampires, it was the turtlenecks! All of a sudden, instead of seeing a brooding hottie stalking down the hallway, all I could picture was Lex Luthor. Mr. Cullen’s choices in attire should have gotten him laughed out of class. The choices felt dated, inauthentic, and entirely not appropriate for the age group. So I put the book down.

I have countless other examples somewhere in the far reaches of my brain. Prom dresses that sound like they’re straight out of 1984, sparkly tees and tanks that belong in my gym locker in the mid-nineties. These are glaring errors to a reader. And you might get people like me who will stop reading altogether. Because if you can’t get that small thing right, what else are you getting wrong?

So how can you get it right? It’s easy, and I promise you don’t need to be a fashionista or break the bank at the mall. First and foremost, you need to think about your character’s personality. What would they want to say to the world with their clothes? What would they wear on the first day back to school after summer break? What would they choose for a big date with someone they want to impress? Do they have any insecurities or things they want to hide?

Once you have those questions answered, find out what’s actually out there in the world for people to wear. If you’re not the same age as your character, look at some magazines or blogs that are aimed at your character’s demographic. What kinds of shapes and colors are out there? Or do you have a friend who perfectly embodies the sense of style you want your character to have? Raid her closet! She’ll probably be flattered.

Another important thing to remember is not to stress about getting the clothing exactly, perfectly right. You’ll never be 100% on trend because fashion is always changing, but it’s probably safe to say that purple, corduroy stretch pants aren’t coming back anytime soon. (Thanks for letting me buy those, Mom!) And you want your character to live on in your reader’s mind most of all, not what she was wearing.

If you find it particularly difficult to describe clothes, visit some stores in person or online for inspiration and change a few details. I’m a huge fan of Polyvore.com for my own shopping addiction, but it’s a great site if you want to browse through all the major online retailers based on color, price, or even brand. It could make for a great writing exercise to find a piece you like and do a character bio based on what kind of person would wear that item.

Now that you’ve got a little more direction on this particular detail, it’s time to get shopping! Er, I mean writing! Good luck!

— By Kathryn Little

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