Character clothing choice as plot device
One of my favorite television programs when I was growing up was a British drama called “The Avengers,” a secret-agent thriller featuring Jonathan Steed (Patrick Macnee) - an urbane, proper gentleman spy – and an adventurous citizen Emma Peel who repeatedly saved the world from diabolical evil-doers.
While I was too young to understand the plot of each episode, I did understand that the hero was a beautiful woman with superior fighting skills, intelligence, and a fantastic wardrobe. I especially loved Mrs. Peel’s close-fitting catsuits and leather boots! I wanted to be Emma Peel even more than I wanted to be a crew member on the Starship Enterprise. And that’s saying something.
As with almost all good fiction (whether on the screen or on the page) in “The Avengers,” costuming was a critical to characterization. Steed, as the stereotypical English gentleman with his Savile Row suits, bowler hat, and umbrella, represented the upper crust of society. Peel’s fashions, with their bold accents, bright colors, and geometric patterns, symbolized youth and the modern England of the 1960s.
If you’re a fiction writer looking to learn how to enhance your characterization through clothing, you’re in luck. Resources abound both on the internet and in print. In fact, they are so easy to find, I’m not even going to include any links to them in this post. Instead, I want you to check out an excellent post by romantic suspense writer Fiona Quinn in which she talks about how various articles of clothing and accessories can hinder or help you characters. It’s a whole new take on how to use clothes in your fiction – not as a tool of characterization, but as a plot device. And her advice actually makes a lot of sense for real characters, too!
But before you go see Fiona, test your fashion sensibilities below with this true or false quiz. You’ll find the answers in the text of Fiona’s post. True or False?
Long, full skirts are a great choice for your character’s wardrobe because it gives her freedom of movement in a fight.
Your character never carries a purse because bags are a liability.
Uh-oh, your character is running from villain. He lunges for her but can’t get a grip because her shirt fits close to her body.
Your character would never wear wedge heels, they’re just too clunky to walk in, let alone try to fight in.
Lycra jeans are the only kind your character buys because they fit close to her body and don’t restrict her movements the way traditional denim does.
Ok – so I’m not the best at writing quizzes, but Fiona is great at teaching you how clothes can help or hinder your character. Click here to read What Not To Wear by Fiona Quinn, and while you’re on her website, look around – it’s a goldmine of resources for crime and thriller writers!!
Have you ever used clothing as a plot device? What did you do? How did it work?
I'm sure Fiona Quinn would approve of Mrs. Peel's catsuit.