Writing, page 2: Is she naked?


Welcome (wherein I introduce the post’s theme)

Do you always have to describe what your character is wearing? I’ve read a few novels where the authors say nothing about the characters’ clothes; I’ve never assumed that the characters are running around naked. Apparently, though, for some people this is a problem.

Real world experience (wherein I confess to having done the thing I am writing about)

Going back to a long-ago creative writing class (the inspiration for these creative writing posts): we had to read aloud from a random paragraph of our works-in-progress. I surprised myself by not running screaming from the room; I actually stuck around and read my piece. In the scene, the main character and her neighbor were sitting in the main’s kitchen. I read the paragraph, and then waited for comments. The instructor liked it. One of the girls in the class, however, was a bit confused.

“Um, is she naked?”

“Who?” sez I.

“Um, your main, um, character. And, um, the other one.” (I will probably edit out the ums from this point on. I tire of typing them. There were a lot.)

“No, she’s not . . . Why would you think that she’s . . . not clothed?” (Don’t ask me why I couldn’t say the word naked. I have no idea.)

“You didn’t say anything about what they’re wearing. I was just wondering.”

The instructor jumped in and said the author doesn’t always have to note what the character’s wearing. And he’s right. Unless you’re writing a period piece, or it’s important that you mention an article of clothing (trench coat that conceals a shotgun, for example), or you want the reader to know your character is obsessed with appearance or just plain nutso (Patrick Bateman in Bret Easton Ellis’s American Psycho, for example), there’s no real need.

Back to it (wherein I go back to the post’s theme) 

To me, though, it adds detail, fleshes out the characters a bit. I almost always describe what my guys are wearing; I try to work it into the scene, write something about how my main character is pulling at the collar of her Dallas Cowboys T-shirt. I don’t do it if it messes with the flow. I hope that my readers will figure out that the characters aren’t naked.

Unless the story’s set in a nudist colony.

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