Why A Character's Appearance Matters

     First impressions are everything. In a fictional war, it could be the difference between your character being attacked or allowed to run past. In real life, if you show up to a job interview not having washed and looking like you just rolled in mud, you probably won't get the job. Very first impressions usually depend on what you look like. Unfortunately, everyone judges books and people by their looks.

     With characters, their appearances not only allow the reader to picture them, but also tell several things about them.


     What are those things, exactly? Why does a tiny detail of what clothes they wear matter?

     Let's get to it.



1) Personality: Everything you wear leads back to your personality. A character who meticulously grooms themselves each morning for hours would not likely be described as 'humble'. A more casual man will wear a loose t-shirt instead of a button-up shirt. If your world is fiercely proper, a rebellious or independent girl might wear super short clothing. 

     I'll pull from my novel Draped in Deception as an example how personality can be shown through appearance: Eric Relen is not an extremely neat and tidy person. His room is a mess, and so this shows in his outfits. Eric's hair is always a little wild, and often he just pulls clothes off the floor without considering if they're clean. His boots have holes at the toes. All these things, from the hair, to the dusty clothes, to the holy shoes shows how unorganized Eric is, and how little he fusses over detail. He's a messy person, and it shows.


2) Their social standing: If someone showed you a commoner and then a royal, it would be easy to pick out who was who. Why? A wealthy royal is not going to look like an everyday person. She will be wearing expensive clothes and pricey jewelry. An everyday person will be wearing what they can afford. While writing, a quick description of the quality of a character's outfit can quickly help your reader establish their place in the world.

Definitely not a commoner.
3) Shows their hobbies: If your character is a baker, they might have flour speckling their shirt. If they're a painter, maybe there is a dried flake of paint in their hair (I have a painter also in Draped in Deception who always has flakes in her hair). Maybe the character loves a band, so they wear t-shirts plastered with their logo. By using small details in outfits, even stains, you can show what your characters enjoy doing.

I might have chosen this picture because that bread looks so delicious...
not because she's messy

4) Gives your world credibility: Clothing can show so much about a culture. Every country has different ways of dressing, styling hair, what colours can/can't be worn, etc. Depending on the geographical location of your characters, they will wear what suits the climate. I can guarantee you no intelligent person would wear a bikini in snow tundra. By giving each culture a different style of clothing, you can make your world seem real. Even in the real world every place has different fashion styles. 

The fashion norm in one world might be strange in another.

    Do you consider your characters' personalities when writing what they're wearing? Do you enjoy writing detailed descriptions, or do you leave it more up to the reader's imagination? Let me know in the comments; I'd love to hear your thoughts!

Comments

  1. Yesss I SO AGREE! And I love it when books take attention and care to details like this. I think it can help to develop a character so so well...plus it SHOWS us and doesn't just tell us. Like the scruffy character who's buttons are always wonky and never can find matching socks tells us a LOT about their personality, right?! Plus it makes them feel more real and dimensional. :')

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    1. I love it when authors give details like your button example. It makes the characters seem so much more real, and it's always nice to have something different than the standard dress or tunics almost every character seems to wear! And yes, we should always strive for the showing instead of telling. Thanks for reading and commenting, Cait! :D

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  2. I LOVE THIS POST.
    You're so incredibly right about all these things! I always seem more connected to characters when I know how they look and what they wear because it describes their character so much.
    Also, quirky attributes MAKE MY DAY, like when characters ONLY wear mismatching socks (?) or if they always wear a certain accessory.

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    1. Thank you Kat! I love whenever characters' outfits are described. It helps me form a personal connection with them (like how sometimes their socks don't match their outfit...which is basically my life). Giving certain characters something they always wear can also help identify them in different POVs too! Thanks for reading and commenting! :D

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  3. This is such an amazing post Melissa! I've never really thought much about how character appearance, but you are totally right - a character's appearance really does tell us a lot about them. Thanks for sharing and, as always, fabulous post! ♥

    ~ Zoe @ Stories on Stage

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    1. Thanks so much Zoe! I'm glad this post helped you understand the significance of it. Appearances of characters can give us key information about their personalities and lives. Thank you for reading and commenting! :D

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