View Full Version : REALLy need help on describing something

01-11-2007, 01:42 AM
I'm writing a chapter of my book in which, at a certain point, I want to describe the clothes that the character is wearing.
This is the closest I have found.
As you can see, it's Alexdander Hartdegen, from the movie "The Time Machine" (2002).
Now what I am trying to do is to describe what I see.
I don't want to say "He wore beije pants, a brown coat and a brown waistcoat."
I also want to describe the hair (necklength? face-length? if that even exists)and the materials in which the clothes are made.
I would REALLY appreciate any help.
If it is not much o fa burden, describe the picture you see, with a few additinal facts about the character.*
It's like I'm stuck on this part of the book, and being a bit of a perfectionist, I can't abandon such an important part of the book's imagery, which is basically late 19th century.

this is what I have so far...

"(Character's name) was dressed in a dark brown coat and beige trousers. His wardrobe didnít change much.
He effused niceness and his pleasing presence in whatever room brightened the day of many people."

Bad, I know.

*My character is an inventor (just like the one in the movie) but he's younger and has a "great personality". He's nice and "great to be around". It's almost impossible not to enjoy his lectures and there's always laughter in the room throughout his explanations.

I would post the chapter in which this part is in, which is the prologue, but I'm too protective of my work, specially on the internet.

thanks for your time, and creativity.

01-11-2007, 01:53 AM
Try embedding your description into action, e.g., "He hung up his brown coat carefully, only to spill wine on the elegant brown vest underneath." or, "He carefully folded his shiny beige pants over the chair in excited expectation of what was to come. (Pun intended)

01-11-2007, 02:35 AM
Do you need to describe his clothing? Does it have a bearing on the story? If your story is mostly through his viewpoint then think about whether he would consider his clothing an important part of who he is.

If you're using the viewpoint of other characters, then it becomes easier to describe how they see his clothing and what relevance they give to something like "His wardrobe didn't change much" - ie, perhaps he's predictable, reliable, or doesn't care if he wears the same clothes a few days in a row. Perhaps he owns twenty nearly identical outfits. If there's an interesting reason that he wears a particular fabric, focus on that (did he invent it? is he proud of the qualities he managed to get into the fabric?)

This sort of thing tells more about a character than "brown coat, beige trousers".

Oh, and his hair is "jaw-length". As Rugcat said, rather than stopping for a spot of description, integrate it into the action if it has relevance to the story. Why is his hair that length? Does he not care about getting a hair cut, or is this length the fashion for men of this period? Does he follow the fashion because he cares about his appearance, or has fashion caught up with him?

01-12-2007, 12:17 AM
"He appeared as a landed gentleman, the sort who had sufficient leisure for scientific pursuits."

I don't think something like "brown coat" will work because, if it's the image you are shooting for, the reader'll supply her own image of a brown coat. To sufficiently describe the quasi-period cut of the jacket, you'll need to go into the detail you want to avoid.

Also, based on the photo, I think you should include the phrase, "...and he had pants up to here!" :-P

01-12-2007, 01:19 AM
... Also, based on the photo, I think you should include the phrase, "...and he had pants up to here!" :-P:ROFL:

Cathy C
01-12-2007, 01:39 AM
I've found the easiest way to describe something is to describe how it's DIFFERENT. Is the clothing unusual for the POV it's being seen through? For example, I first noticed the high collar because they're not common today, plus the way the tie is knotted. The pants aren't that unusual today, nor the jacket. If you comment from the POV of another character of the time, something to the effect of this might work, "while his brown tweed coat and pants appeared as any other well-to-do gentleman might wear, his shirt was several seasons out of fashion and the tie that graced his collar was red!"

:Shrug: Just a thought.

01-13-2007, 03:15 AM
WHY is it vital to your story to describe, down to the letter, how he looks? Can't you allude to it?

I can fill in 19th Century details just by you telling me where they are and what they should be, if you see what I mean.

01-13-2007, 03:24 AM
If I were Douglas Adams I'd say

"He wore a 19th century breastcoat and trousers, that fit him exactly like a sperm whale wouldn't."

01-13-2007, 03:29 AM

I miss Douglas...

01-13-2007, 04:11 AM
Is it a Victorian smoking jacket? Don't know, just like the sound of the phrase. I did some research on historical costume a couple of years ago - which means any links I had are gone, but Google's your friend. I have some notes scribbled somewhere about broad shoulders and nipped in waist of short tail coat. That kinda sounds right. And that elaborate male dress was seen as effeminate and not worn.

I understand being hooked on a description of a key character's clothes. Even if it doesn't make it into the final draft in that form, creatively, I need it to be down there in black and white.

Good luck

01-16-2007, 10:37 PM
this is going to sound weird but the story I'm writing...isn't happening in the 19th century...it's just a world in where people, at least the men, dress the same way as we, on earth, did in the 19th century.
I can't just mention our 19th century because all of it is happening in another planet. "MY" civilization didn't go through a 19th century. It's hard to explain. I don't want to use little sentences like, "Oh my god! and oh shit! and what the Hell?! and "Cool"
That is why I'm stuck...how do you tell someone, through the use of words, that a man is wearing 19th century looking clothes, without telling them that they look from the 19th century.

And I have been reading the replies, they have all been helpful in one way or another.

01-16-2007, 11:09 PM
Probably, the people on your planet don't speak English, either, but you have to write the story in English (or at least some other Earthly language) or no one will be able to read it. Such short phrases as Oh my god! and oh shit! and what the Hell?! and Cool are not unique to English. Something similar as those occur in all human languages. Since none of your characters have any knowledge of McDonalds or Starbucks, references to such places are obviously out. But more than likely they have religion (Oh, my God! -- or -- Ye gods!), nasty stuff (Crap! Oh, shit!), are impressed by things or events (Cool! Wow! Neat!). These phrases aren't new--they've been around for decades, years, centuries. If you want to impart a sense of alienism to them, though, try rearranging them a little.

Check out this story (http://absolutewrite.com/forums/showpost.php?p=1051583&postcount=1)from the new Flash Fiction Challenge, and possibly attend the SF/F chat next week on Thursday where the topic will be "How to deal with strangeness (http://absolutewrite.com/forums/showpost.php?p=1047289&postcount=22)."

01-17-2007, 02:43 AM
this civilization has a ..... "mysterious past".
They don't know, or ever thought about where they came from.
It's like they were put on the planet by someone or something, and there's no religion...almost as if it was this really egocentric person who raised his own city in a far away planet with all he believed in. There is no religion, there is no 'God' entity in which they have beliefs. It's hard to explain. People just go on with their daily lives....it's an Innovation and Progress and Imagination and Science based society. This "Science" has that 19th century feeling to it. You know when there were people like Edison and Tesla and Bell and the Wright Brothers and the Lumiťre brothers and Darwin and Einstein.
I know that "God" eventually comes along in their thoguhts...."Who did it all?" "Why is the universe working by these rules in the first place?" but ...they're really aren't focused on that "at the moment" if you know what I mean.
They have individual balloons to work on and anemometers to calibrate.

It's kinda hard trying to tell a story in where almost everything resembles our civilization...but then there's subtle differences at the base of it all.....it makes it all collaspe and it then becomes not so enjoyable.
They can't say "Jesus Chirst!" because they never had a Jesus Christ.
They can't say "Holy s**t" because they do have the word holy.
Haha...and no they dont' have hamburgers. they do have coffe shops and such; all of it with that 19th century feeling.

I know it's complicated.
One of the ways to solve the readers' confusin is to just tell them that what they are about to read is about things that happened in another planet, in which there isa mix of silvery futuristic buldings and photographic cameras enclosed in boxes of wood and brass.

01-17-2007, 02:53 AM
You want to describe them in an earthly manner, but without sounding like it's on earth. Eventually, you have to break down and use the good ol' word you have in English. Otherwise, you can't use the word "jacket," you're out of luck on "smoking," and you wind up writing it in a foreign language and no one reads it.

Avoid the specific phrases like Pthom mentions, but otherwise just use English. Simple English. If you have to spend thirty-five words beating around the bush to say "smoking jacket" without actually SAYING the phrase smoking jacket.....you've lost.

if the culture LOOKS like Victorian times in our world, your reader is going to equate it to that anyway, even if they consciously know that this isn't Victorian England. So at least make it easy for them to find common ground, and then get on with your story. That's what they're here for.

01-17-2007, 04:55 PM
Yes. It's like I don't trust the reader enough. I was much worse when I started writing. I described every movement the characters made because I wanted the reader to see in his mind what I saw in my mind. It's like I don't want them to imagine a character in the wrong type of jacket or surroundings,but to write it...it's hell.
And I think I have this in my head because I know that if the story was published there would be people who would say, how come they say bloody hell if they didn't have the same history like us? How come they're talking in English if they didn't go through the anglo-saxonic history behind its origin?
I guess the everything is spoken in a foreign language but I obvisouly have to "translate" it into english.
And you're right. I just have to use the english everybody uses here on earth to describe things. It just makes it easier for them to picture it.
But it's still hard to describe things that could be summed up in just "Victorian Period with a glimpse of futurity"

01-17-2007, 05:47 PM
It's like the aliens in Star Trek. They say "damn it" and all sorts of other strange phrases. You just assume it's the Universal Translator doing its job.

People may quietly comment on it, but that's not what they remember about the show.

Trust your readers. Give them enough information so that they can say to themselves 1) This world looks like Victorian England and 2) This is not our world.

From there, they can fill in lots of the bits.

A lot of the time, they're going to build their own mental image anyway, regardless of how you describe it. They'll free-associate with what THEY picture as a Victorian Smoking jacket. They may think of it as a dark brown one, shiny around the elbows, like something Sherlock Holmes would wear, and they'll think that even if you point out that it's crushed velvet with a sash.

What it means is, you have to assume your readers are the smartest idiots around sometimes. See? That' as easy as the bit where you have to put a hundred thousand words in cunning order.