What are you wearing? Getting the details right
This post was inspired by Emily Wheeler’s post on dreaming about her characters. (See Emily’s tea leaves)
They say that if your characters talk to you in dreams, you are doing something great. I’m lucky to have had that happen once or twice.
But I usually have to start off on the physical. One of my protagonists is a Peruvian woman in her mid-thirties, lower economic bracket. Being male, I have to do extra homework to get her right.
A book club had me as a guest once and loved my first book but one woman wanted to know what kind of shoes Nina wore. What? She wears boots with her uniform, sneakers when she is solving crimes and pumps if going out. Yes, but what kind of shoes? I was caught off-guard.
So now I start off scenes (internally) with a checklist. Most of the details won’t make it to the final draft (most of them, in fact) but I know they are there. It helps center my character. Tip of the iceberg is what I show.
What is she wearing? How has she done her hair? In a ponytail because she is running a quick errand and it’s windy? What kind of shoes is she wearing? What brand? How many pairs does she own? No more than a few pair. One good pair of black heels to wear on special occasions. She keeps them in the box and wipes them off when she puts them away. Can she afford nail polish? What does she think of nail polish? Jeans? What kind of jeans would she wear if money were no object? Does she have an opinion on spending a fortune on jeans when a third of her country goes hungry?
I thought I was doing this but I wasn’t doing it enough.
The physical leads to the psychological.
Lipstick? The lipstick question got me on a Google search of Peruvian department stores. No, I’m not weird. Well, not too much. I settled for a brand of lipstick a woman Nina’s age on a budget like hers might think was OK without being cheap or flashy. But she is Latina with a sense of style North American women might not share. All of this helps me get into her head. Physical leads to psychological.
I find the physical is a great place to start. Elmore Leonard once said his criminals go to the closet every morning and ponder what pants to put on.
¡viven los escritores!