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Showing posts from October, 2017

Not-so-fancy Dress

Costumes are great conversation starters. “Oo, that’s so clever!” “Love the fabric; where’d you get it?” “Okay, I give up. What the expletive deleted are you supposed to be?” When you venture into the world of reenacting, those friendly conversations can take a sudden and ugly shift from helpful hints about keeping your pinner apron in place to screaming debates about how long to soak metal buttons in urine in order to achieve an authentic patina. No, I’m not kidding . I fall on the less-hardcore end of the historical garb spectrum, mostly due to a lack of funding and closet space. While I’d certainly consider donating an extraneous organ or two for something like this: most of the stuff in my costume closet comes straight from vintage Vogue and McCall patterns. No biggie, since my appearance isn’t that important. I spend most of my reenactment time chatting to kids who are fascinated by my spinning wheel, while their parents are giggling and taking vi

Dressing Down Your Novel

Clothes play a big part in most novels, especially when the genre is historical. Researching the clothing to get it right is as important as nailing the social mores of the time period. I actually taught a History of Fashion course at a junior college when I lived in Boston, but that’s another story. Writers have different perspectives on how to treat clothing and facial descriptions. Some prefer to limit the way a character looks and/or dresses because they’d rather have the reader’s image prevail. Others describe every part of the wardrobe, every mole on the character’s face. I’m in between. Description for me has to mean something, convey something. Describing the clothing is synonymous with describing the character. Is the male character wearing well-worn jeans, or are the jeans pressed with a sharp crease? Is he wearing a polo shirt or a starched dress shirt with those jeans? Is his hair long and shaggy, or does he have a nice, neat trim. Beard, bristle, or clean-shaven? See

Trick or Treat

There have been several excellent posts here this month about costumes and dressing our characters, so I thought I would take a bit of a divergent path with my post today.  Have you ever stopped to think that life is so much like the bag of Halloween candy that we used to get when we went out trick-or-treating? The bag would fill up with all kinds of unknown things as we dashed through the darkness going from house to house shouting, "Trick or treat." The air was filled with electric excitement as we anticipated enjoying all the goodies that were filling our bags. Then sometimes as we walked along the sidewalk, we'd reach into the bag and pluck something out, not really knowing what we were going to get. Maybe it would be something really scrumptious, like our favorite candy bar. Or maybe it would be just a simple piece of peppermint wrapped in plastic. Or the dreaded apple. Life is like that. Often we reach into each day and we don't know what we'r

Period Dress — A reflection of the times

Have you ever noticed how social attitudes, public decorum, accepted behavior, and fashion seem to go hand in hand? Consider, for example, the early Victorian era. Both men and women of class wore fancy garb. An upper class woman's gowns modestly covered her body more or less from head to toe. High collars were worn in public, and men, too, were garbed from top to bottom. (Interestingly, in the 16th century, a woman's breasts could be partly or even totally exposed, and this was the accepted norm.) During the first part of the Victorian era, a woman's job was to manage the home for her husband, whose only domestic duty was to make the money to run the household. She must be virtuous, obedient, faithful, and devoid of any intellectual opinion or pursuit. The man, however, could have a mistress (also expected to be faithful) and/or an afternoon or evening dalliance at a man's club. Near the end of that era, women began to come into their own; not long thereaft

What Are You Wearing?

Image by Rockandbacon , via Flickr Look at yourself right now. What are you wearing? Clothes of some sort, right? If the answer is ‘no’ well, that’s a post for a different time. However, let us assume that there is clothing of some type draped about your form. Work clothes. Stay at home clothes. I’m not feeling well and this is comfortable clothes. Gardening clothes. Cleaning out the garage clothes…you get the picture. Clothes are the outer signs of your role for the day or night. Sleeping? Baking? Making a court appearance? There are clothes for that. There are clothes which identify your work role. Nurse. Lab technician. Judge. Surgeon. Armed forces personnel. All clothes - not costumes. A costume isn’t your clothes. It’s something you have to get accustomed to wearing. It’s different. It could be awkward to wear; maybe it’s long or heavy. It might be something you wear on a special occasion. Whatever it might be, it’s unusual for you to be wearing it. You’re aware o

The Blank Mind Cure

Image by Mark Turnauckas , via Flickr What do you do when your mind goes blank? Don’t tell me yours never does, because if you do I won’t believe you. Here is one way I deal with that awful blank page or screen, when suddenly your mind is as empty as the screen. Be like a boy scout: Be Prepared. If you know this will happen to you (it happens to every writer), one thing that might help is to have a prepared list of things you are interested in. Make this list when your mind is not blank, but teeming with too many subjects that interest you. What is actually on the list doesn’t matter, as long as you have an interest, and preferably a passion, for the subject. Don’t elaborate, just write them down. Then save this list! Here’s a list I made a couple of years ago. Some of the subjects I’ve already written about, others I no longer have an interest in. But others are still fertile ground waiting for me to plow through them. If one of them interests you, I’m happy to share. Bee-k

Walking the Talk: Bringing a Character to Life through Costume

I once read a free Kindle book that purported to be a novel about a woman who is kidnapped by some vaguely Middle Eastern ruffian and taken back to their homeland. There is she taken under the wing of a strong local woman who eventually helps her to return to her home. I know that there are very good books being self-published, but this one did not fit into that category. The oddly named characters (an Arab name that translated to “zucchini,” for example), the blatant stereotyping, and the clunky use of odd spelling and word order to denote a foreign language were distracting, but the book did not become laughable until the author attempted to portray the protagonist walking around in African/Middle Eastern garb. It was painfully obvious that the writer had no idea not only what the clothing should consist of, but what it would be like to move around and function in it on a daily basis. Being a Muslim woman who wears Islamic clothing when I go out, the deficiencies in the book

Dressing Your Characters

October and Halloween are the season where anyone, young or old, can play dress up. We love selecting our favorite characters, time periods, monsters, or fantasy heroes. From wigs and rags to elaborate makeup, our imaginations can run wild. In world building, whether you have chosen a specific historical period, a contemporary city,  a futuristic planet, or a fantasy world, part of the fun is researching or inventing costumes. In the latest edition of my Story Building Block s series, the Build A World Workbook , I devote an entire section to questions about apparel with lists of resources. To get started, here are a few basic questions: 1. What were common clothing items: for men, women, children, or the elderly? 2. Do they have uniforms? Why and for what purposes? What do they look like? 3. Do clothing items indicate status, position, or their role in society? 4. Does clothing have religious connotations? 5. What were the popular styles and color palettes? What colo