Being a Better Writer: Clothing and Fashion

Welcome back readers! It’s Monday, and that mean’s it’s time for another installment of Being a Better Writer!

Of course, it’s not just an ordinary Monday. Today is Martin Luther King Jr. Day, a federal holiday in the US honoring the life and accomplishments of, well, Martin Luther King Jr (Surprise! This one is names correctly!).

If you don’t know who Martin Luther King Jr. is, then today is a good day to perhaps carry out a Google and learn a little bit about him! In the meantime, however, and before I get to this week’s news and then the post itself, I’ll share this quote from him, one that feels especially relevant after the last few weeks:

Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that.

If you’ve never read that quote before, nor anything else Martin Luther King Jr. said during his life, then I’d say today would be a good day to do a quick Google and some reading! Enjoy!

And now, the news! With the most relevant question on many readers’ minds being “What’s the status of Axtara – Banking and Finance?” Well, I’ve got good news, and I’ve got good news!

Good news #1 is that Axtara is doing pretty well. Even almost a month after release, it’s still sitting in the top 25 on the new release tracker for its category on Amazon. It’s also picked up a number of reviews and ratings, all of them in the positive. From what’s come in so far, the meaning is clear: You guys love Axtara! Let’s take a look at some excerpts from the reader reviews so far:

I just finished reading the the book a bit ago and I loved it. The story is enjoyable and wraps up well (it does leave it open for a sequel too, and I hope that there is one – or more – eventually). The characters are also likeable, and the story being from the perspective of a dragon – Axtera – is interesting … I enjoyed it quite a bit and if you think the description looks interesting then you should definitely give it a shot as I think it delivers well on the premise.

An enjoyable read! I’ll give a try on kindle unlimited to most any book with a dragon as the protagonist, but I quite liked this one enough to leave a good review. I was particularly interested in the entrepreneurial elements as Axtara works to establish her bank. Axtara’s focus on reaching break-even point shows the author did their research here, and the business side seems well grounded and interesting.

 I came away fully satisfied from having read a story so well-crafted, and I hope to see more!

A lovely and enjoyable story that I will be buying as a hard copy as soon as it’s available!

So yeah, the verdict is in: Axtara is a hit! I hope those of you that are still reading it are finding it every bit as enjoyable as you’d hoped, and that your reviews will find their way to the world soon!

Now, what about something that even the last review quote touches on: The hard copy. Is it still coming? I know I haven’t offered an update in a week or so (again, blame the computer failure I suffered). Well, I’ve got good news people!

It’s almost done. The manuscript has been uploaded, and the hard copy cover is almost done. All that’s left is for someone who knows more about GIMP than I to do some smoothing on the image, and for me to acquire and zip through a proof! And once that’s done … Axtara – Banking and Finance will be available in paperback!

Okay, so what are we looking at, detail-wise? Well, the price is likely going to be, as of right now, $11.99, and weigh in at a little over three hundred pages. If that price seems high, well … that is literally as low as I can go before the print costs are such that I’d lose money on every copy sold, at which point the Print services just say “no, you can’t do that.” Not a great deal for me, either. So yeah, it’s very likely going to be $11.99 for the time being. But hey, at least there’s digital for those of you saving pennies.

However, I can say this: Axtara will almost certainly be available in print before the end of the month! I’ll be sure to let you all know!

Now, I do have one other bit of news before we hop to today’s Being a Better Writer topic: Price drops! That’s right, the promised price drops in the wake of a new release have finally come for Shadow of an Empire and Jungle! Shadow of an Empire has now reached its final tail-price of $3.99, while Jungle has seen its first price-drop to $5.99. So if you’re a tail reader, your day has come for Shadow of an Empire! Click that books tab at the top and go for it!

All right! That’s the news, said and done. So let’s talk about today’s writing topic, which is a bit of an odd one. Clothing and fashion, after all, is something a lot of young writers barely consider, save occasionally from the lens of “how cool can I make them look” (a process which for some reason for many seems to involve robbing an outlet store for a few hundred belts and zippers)? So why devote a BaBW post to the topic?

Well, it’s because as I’ve said before, a lot of bringing a world to life is in the fine details. And clothing, and what we wear, is definitely one of those details. Let’s take a look.

All right, to start this off, I want to use another thought exercise. I’m going to list a few lines of dialogue from various sources, and I want you to picture a person associated with each one. Ready? Go!

  • “Bond. James Bond.”
  • “Git along! Come on, keep the herd moving!”
  • “Yarr! Stand down and prepare to be boarded!”
  • “What a fascinating chemical reaction.”
  • “I need soup at table six! More soup at table six!”
  • “You think this sea is rough, you should have been fishing with us in ’78!”

All right, that’s probably good enough. Now, all of these sayings and lines were amusingly on point and direct, but I did it for a reason. With each one I asked you to imagine a person. Now I ask you this: What were they wearing? What were they clad in? If you’re like many people, for the first you very likely thought of a tuxedo, immaculately pressed, since that’s the iconic (and unreal joke look) of the famous secret agent who utters those words.

What about the second? Did anyone else think of cowboy boots, hats, and other cowboy paraphernalia? What about the third? Eye patches? Longcoats? Lab coats for number four? Safety glasses?

All right, what am I getting at here? My point is that for each of these quotes, just a line was enough for us to immediately associate a particular style or selection of clothing with them. Clothing that, in each case, was common enough for one reason or another to enter into the public’s mind. Exaggerated maybe, or in some cases flatly incorrect (part of the “joke” with Bond is how impossible his suits are), but all sharing a single, common thread (pun intended): The clothing had a reason to be attached to the role, social, utility, or otherwise.

Right, by this point some of you are probably wondering “Yes, but what does this have to do with writing?” So I’ll give you the answer: Clothing, and what our characters wear, is a small but important detail of cause. Whether we’re writing a story set here and now on Earth, a story set hundreds of years in the future on an alien world, or thousands of years ago in a magic-filled past, what our characters wear and how they dress will be driven by the conditions of the world they explore. And while our stories don’t need to dive into a fashion show of what all the current clothing trends are, acknowledging them in our story can be a way to show our readers more about the world without info-dumping and help them come to a clearer picture of what this setting is like.

For example, let’s look at Brandon Sanderson’s Stormlight Archives, which make a very good use of clothing to teach the reader about a cultural concept in one society called a “safehand,” wherein women in the society keep their left hand covered by a loose sleeve that all of their clothing features. You’ve pretty much got it from that description there, but in the actual story it’s presented by a character making certain that the sleeve is kept over their safehand as they carry out a task, letting the reader put together for themselves the role of the “safehand” in the culture as well as see, over the course of the book, what impact it’s had. Rather than just dumping it on the reader, the clothing introduces the concept and makes its importance clear.

The end result is that readers have a clear picture of this society with flowing, loose left sleeves on every garment possible, driven by the cause of the society valuing that hand. They’re given a better mental image of what people from that culture are like and how they might perform actions spoken of in the story.

So there, in that series, the cause is cultural. But when you write your setting, the cause can be any number of things. It can be the most basic of causes: Need for something. Like long, flowing robes that keep the sun off of a body, or heavy, waterproof boots for those working on a ship deck that sees a lot of water. Working on this can be a fun exercise in looking at what your characters do and work at when not involved in the story. It can also be an examination of “how.” Sure, it’s great that your character in a medieval fantasy wore a silk dress to the ball … but where did the silk come from? Was there a meaning to wearing silk as opposed to another cloth, or was it just for comfort/looks?

Now, a caution here: This isn’t meant to be an excuse to dive down the rabbit-hole of worldbuilding chasing endless threads (again, pun intended), but rather a mental exercise for you to consider as you figure out who your characters are and what they’re like. Clothing is an important part of the day to day life because we wear it for a cause. If you can determine what the causes of your characters and culture are, you can “ground them” in a reader’s mind by making what they wear grounded and practical for the cause.

Now, clothing can also be a good tool inside your story for, well, all sorts of things, from inciting character conversations and giving us clues about individuals to setting up for conflict and challenges! For example, in Axtara there’s a small bit of dialogue between the titular protagonist and a young woman she’s just met named Mia about the armor Mia is wearing. She replies that it was a gift from her mother, and after a line or two more, the conversation shifts on.

But in that brief moment when they discuss it? We learn a lot about both characters, as well as Mia’s family relationships. All through the vehicle of a compliment of the armor one of them was wearing.

See? Something as simple as comment on the quality of one’s formal wear at a state dinner or an important function can tell the reader a lot about the people behind the comment. Think about how often the antagonist in a story about a teenage girl, for example, will insult and mock the protagonist’s clothing even if what they’re wearing is really nice. It’s a trope because it works to show us something about both parties in the exchange.

Now, that’s social conflict, but clothing can be a source of physical conflict as well (and no, I don’t mean when the protagonist from the prior paragraph punches out the antagonist over the comments, though that’s also possible). Think about, for example, how many survival stories have whole segments driven by the fact that the protagonists aren’t properly clothed for the situation they’ve found themselves in and must work to overcome the fact that their clothing isn’t made for the cause they’re now engaged in?

Trying not to freeze to death? Wearing clothes that don’t provide proper rain protection? That’s conflict! And not only can it teach us something about the character, it’s also a great vehicle for moving the story forward! Trying not to freeze? Baking under a hot sun? Even preparing for such things can tell us a bit about the world, our character, and what their “causes” are.

So, in the end, clothing isn’t something you should dive down the rabbit hole on, but it is something you should consider. All clothing comes from a cause that it’s driven to answer, be it social and cultural, or from physical necessity. And by addressing those causes and working the threads of them into our narrative, literally, we can make our world that much more real for our readers and our characters.

Good luck. Now get writing.

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Frenetic, Pajo, Anonymous Potato, Taylor, Jack of a Few Trades, Alamis, Seirsan, Grand General Luna, Miller, Hoopy McGee, Brown, Lightwind, Thomas, and 22ndTemplar!

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