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Thursday, December 27, 2007

Clothes Make the (Wo)man

Tom Hanks in EW Magazine, discussing CHARLIE WILSON’S WAR: “Charlie walks in, and he’s wearing cowboy boots, a brown pair of slacks, a purple shirt, and mismatching suspenders with little Spitfire airplanes on them that he’s run under the epaulets of his shirt. Half my work was done right there.”

We’ve discussed describing what your character wears on the Rouge Wave before. The Wave-inatrix weighed in, essentially, warning writers not to be too detailed UNLESS the way your character dresses is crucial to understanding the character. Even then, if your character dresses in Sergeant Pepper get up on a daily basis – it’s not really necessary to describe each outfit in each scene. Readers are smart – we get it, he’s a crazy dresser.

Many new writers make the mistake of going into too much detail.

Example one - the right way:

Dressed to the nines, EVELYN’s scarlet dress rustled as she walked . Expensive jewelry hung around her neck and wrists and she smelled of seduction.

Example two - the wrong way:

EVELYN wore a red Vera Wang evening gown, with a sequined bodice, taupe hose and black shoes on which silver buckles shaped like flowers glinted. Her necklace, 24-karats of Bolivian emeralds, accented her emerald drop earrings and emerald ring. For perfume, she wore Magdelena by Profusio.

Now, Wavers know I make up these examples on the spot so they’re pretty goofy but I literally do see example number two quite often. No, I'm not kidding. I really wish I were but I'm not.

In essence, you want to paint a picture of your character as quickly as possible. Four little words – dressed to the nines - say more than a thousand additional words. And I don’t care if the designer is Vera Wang – if you’re lucky enough to get your movie produced – let the costume designer discuss what kind of red dress with the actor and director. But on the page – I get it – she’s classy, elegant and wearing red. Done.

Economy is the word, here – economy and capturing a character’s essence very quickly. More important than what color your character is wearing is how they are dressed. Sexily, neatly, staidly, sloppily, dirtily….now those are traits that carry over from the clothes to the human wearing them, aren’t they?

Of course, as you build your character, you should imagine what they wear on a day-to-day basis and how they look when they go out. Do they dress to impress? Or do they not care about their appearance? If so, is it in a free spirit, Woody Harrelson way or is it due to depression, self-loathing or even mental illness? Why does your character choose to wear what they wear?

But on the pages of your script, keep descriptions relatively minimal; resist the urge to catalogue garments ad infinitum. Use words that describe intention, social class and over-all demeanor – not just details.

ShowHype: hype it up!

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