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Clothing and appearance descriptions/charts/dictionaries

sunkuwan

As a male, it is somewhat difficult to write about the clothing of females and high society settings of males and females if you don't want your characters to feel sterile or that they only wear the same clothing/styles.

For shoes, I found some dictionaries but it is probably only a tenth or so of the real variety.

https://i.pinimg.com/736x/ee/1e/97/ee1e9762c84195c13a72610497c7cbe9.jpg

I found a chart about hair lengths but nothing good about the different hairstyles.
Then you need charts and dictionaries about skirts and dresses etc. and don't get me started on undergarments. (the most descriptive resource in THAT category, you could learn from Transvestite/feminizing stories, they are very descriptive of every clothing part).

So what do you use as research material?

Crumbly Writer

@sunkuwan

The "Writers Helping Writers" group produces a series of book, by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglish of various writing "Thesaurus" books that I find helpful. Such as "The Emotional Thesaurus".

Listed under: Amusement
PHYSICAL SIGNALS: A shiny or rosy face
Raised or wiggling eyebrows
Snorting, laughing
Chuckling or cackling
Displaying a wide grin
Exchanging knowing looks with others
Witty commentary
...

INTERNAL SENSATIONS:
A heart that seems to freeze, then pound
Rushing blood
Rising body temperature
Tingling skin
Stalled breaths
Adrenaline spikes

Mental Responses:
Momentarily forgetting all else
Wanting to share the experience with others
Giddiness
Disorientation
Euphoria
An inability to find words
...

Despite some very useful terms for a variety of situations (emotional thesaurus, physical description thesaurus, etc.) I rarely ever crack it, however.

What I use most of physical description is an collection of internet photos I originally collected as 'source material' for my art, so I could always reference a photographic reference. Now, whenever I need a character description, I find a photo of someone who 'looks like' my character, and then I base their description on the real-life person.

Dominions Son

@sunkuwan

So what do you use as research material?


On-line clothing retailers.

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
Crumbly Writer

@Dominions Son

So what do you use as research material?

On-line clothing retailers.

reminds me of the days of jerking off in the outhouse to pictures of the latest Sears Roebuck Catalogue lingerie section (those are days I hope to NEVER relive!)

JohnBobMead

@Crumbly Writer

Eagerly awaiting the arrival of the Victoria's Secret Catalogue in the mail (in an apartment with two male grad students...)

Dominions Son

@Crumbly Writer

reminds me of the days of jerking off in the outhouse to pictures of the latest Sears Roebuck Catalogue lingerie section


Do-Over to-do list.

#1 Find a better source of jerk-off material.
#2 Find a better location for jerking off.

:)

awnlee jawking

@sunkuwan

Not only men have problems with clothing descriptions. I remember reading Kay Scarpetta's novels and thinking 'who the hell dresses like that to cut up a dead body'.

And as for the colour schemes some authors make their characters wear ...

AJ

Replies:   robberhands
robberhands

@awnlee jawking

Ho-ho-ho! Not only does your writing has a special appeal to female readers, you're a fashionista too!

Replies:   awnlee jawking
Ernest Bywater
Updated:

In many stories the clothing doesn't need to be detailed, because it only detracts from the story. However, there are times when the details are important, but they aren't many. In a story I'm reading at the moment I'm skipping huge sections of wasted text where the authors goes into great detail of the clothes and the meals when they have add nothing to the story. A 1,000 word description of what they had for breakfast and how they ate it doesn't add to the story, they could've got by with ten words and made it easier on everybody. The same applies to most clothing for most scenes in a story. Unless there's a plot reason for wearing the red dress over the blue pants suit who cares what they're wearing.

edit to add:

In Boone - The Early Years I mention the coat he wears to hide the guns while giving access to them, and I mention when they go to buckskins because those parts affect the story plots or sub-plots. The same with describing the clothes of Sam when they first meet. I do mention getting them new clothes, but don't go into detail about them, because the detail isn't important.

robberhands

@Ernest Bywater

That's a bit too puristic for my taste. I don't promote general lengthy descriptions of food or dresses, it bores me too, but occasionally it adds to the impression of a scene and furthers the readers understanding of the story and/or its characters.

Replies:   Ernest Bywater
Ernest Bywater

@robberhands

but occasionally it adds to the impression of a scene and furthers the readers understanding of the story and/or its characters.


Which is why I had the second sentence about it. Most of the time what they eat and what they wear is irrelevant, and there's no need to mention it, unless there's a specific need for the story purposes.

awnlee jawking

@robberhands

Not only does your writing has a special appeal to female readers


I wish that were true. There isn't much content on SOL that isn't written for men :(

AJ

Replies:   robberhands
robberhands

@awnlee jawking

There isn't much content on SOL that isn't written for men :(

For my presently posted story, even I received positive feedback from two supposedly female readers. That's about fifteen percent of the entire feedback I got. I freely admit I didn't write with female readers at the forefront of my mind, so the overall proportion of female readers can't be that bad, nor their satisfaction with the stories on SoL.

Replies:   awnlee jawking
Geek of Ages

As to the original question: whenever I have something come up in a story that I don't know much about, I obsessively google and research (image search can be particularly helpful for some things) and even potentially ask experts for advice.

As for descriptions of clothing and food, I disagree with the idea that you should only include details that further the story. Food/clothing can add to characterization, or simply just setting. In much the same way that in movies, you see food and clothing even when it doesn't "contribute to the story"—it adds verisimilitude to the scene.

Ernest Bywater

@Geek of Ages

In much the same way that in movies, you see food and clothing even when it doesn't "contribute to the story"—it adds verisimilitude to the scene.


There are significant differences between a solely written media and a visual media. However, when you check the screenplays for most movies and plays they do not detail every item of dress or food in the scene, but usually leave that up to whoever is doing it to select what to put there. Even in period pieces they usually describe it as formal clothes or casual etc., and leave it up to the director or producer to select what they have. In written works you do the same thing, and leave it up to the reader to choose what they have most of the time.

Part of this is consistency. If you describe the clothes and meals sometimes when they aren't important then you should be describing every meal and outfit or the readers get confused as to what's going on. Waste too much time and words on irrelevant minor points and the readers stop reading. Keep the details of clothes and meals to important times and they know to pay attention to what's there, because it's relevant for some reason which will be shown soon. The most relevant case is when what you describe isn't normal dress etc.

robberhands

@Ernest Bywater

Which is why I had the second sentence about it. Most of the time what they eat and what they wear is irrelevant, and there's no need to mention it, unless there's a specific need for the story purposes.

You did, but you reduced the allowance of descriptions to the functionality of its subject within a story. I think ambience and scenery can be a worthy subject too.

Replies:   Ernest Bywater
Ernest Bywater

@robberhands

I think ambience and scenery can be a worthy subject too.


There are times, but very few, where it's important to the story, but most of the time it's just unneeded filling like the many thousand word room descriptions in the Victorian novels.

Setting the scene for a romantic evening it's important for some extra work on the ambience of the scene, but a total waste of time for most scenes. They become, and are, boring.

robberhands

@Ernest Bywater

There are times, but very few, where it's important to the story, but most of the time it's just unneeded filling like the many thousand word room descriptions in the Victorian novels.

As I said, most times I find them boring too, so I won't argue the point how often it's an advantage to the story or how often it isn't.

Replies:   Ernest Bywater
Geek of Ages
Updated:

@Ernest Bywater


They become, and are, boring.


I disagree. I enjoy reading those sorts of things, because it helps me visualize what's going on. Stories shorn from time and place for lack of those descriptions end up feeling stale and drab to me.

Ernest Bywater

@robberhands

how often it's an advantage to the story or how often it isn't.


Which is where I make the point about it being kept for where it's relevant to the story, i.e. an advantage to the story.

The problem is where it does nothing for the story itself except slow down the reading and pad the word count.

awnlee jawking

@Ernest Bywater

However, when you check the screenplays for most movies and plays they do not detail every item of dress or food in the scene, but usually leave that up to whoever is doing it to select what to put there.


The course junkies at my writers' group say that any extraneous detail included in a screenplay is likely to be ignored by a director. So set a scene in a restaurant but don't mention what the characters are wearing or eating unless it's germane

eg "That's a nice dress you're wearing, Michael."

"Thank you, but actually I'm a woman this week. Please call me Michaela."

AJ

Dominions Son

@Ernest Bywater

A 1,000 word description of what they had for breakfast and how they ate it doesn't add to the story


It can matter for period historical or fantasy stories where the what and how can be very different from what your readers are used to. Of course, that level of detail multiple times would probably be overkill.

Likewise, clothing descriptions can be very important to establishing setting for period historical, fantasy or science fiction stories.

Dominions Son

@Geek of Ages

Stories shorn from time and place for lack of those descriptions end up feeling stale and drab to me.


I'll second that.

Replies:   robberhands
robberhands

@Dominions Son

I wholeheartedly can agree to that as well. Of course, it's not just clothes and food; buildings, roads, tools and weapons, it's everything. Sometimes knowing about the weather and light can help to vizualize a scene; smells, temperature, distant noise, the list is endless.

Crumbly Writer

@Geek of Ages

As for descriptions of clothing and food, I disagree with the idea that you should only include details that further the story. Food/clothing can add to characterization, or simply just setting. In much the same way that in movies, you see food and clothing even when it doesn't "contribute to the story"—it adds verisimilitude to the scene.

It varies. In a story about families, where food is the central element around which the family operates, then yes, food is essential. But, if the food one eats has no direct relevance to the story, it is often merely a distraction, and like detailing the shoes someone bought while shopping, is more related to gun porn—targetting only those viewers who have your own obsessions—rather than trying to attract the most readers.

Geek of Ages

@Crumbly Writer

trying to attract the most readers


The books that do this (and analogously watchers with movies, etc) are in my experience nothing more than anodyne pablum. I want to read stories that are interesting, not something engineered to capture every possible demographic.

That anything not in direct service to the plot could be called a "distraction" is baffling to me. There's much more to stories than simply their plots.

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
sunkuwan

That anything not in direct service to the plot could be called a "distraction" is baffling to me. There's much more to stories than simply their plots.


correct. I find stories that only have situations that advance the plot, sterile and boring. It reads like a list of things that happened.

Dominions Son

@Crumbly Writer

rather than trying to attract the most readers.


Why should this be the (or even an) objective for every story?

Bondi Beach

@Ernest Bywater

In many stories the clothing doesn't need to be detailed, because it only detracts from the story. However, there are times when the details are important, but they aren't many.


Exactly.

Like bust or dick sizes, "less is more" applies to clothing descriptions. Sometimes it matters, like when my characters of any age attempt, just like the 14-year-olds they were once, to look down her dress.

When the characters wore anything at all, lingerie featured prominently in Stockings, but aside from a couple of colors and a bit of lace, it was left undescribed.

bb

Replies:   Dominions Son  Joe Long
Dominions Son

@Bondi Beach

Sometimes it matters, like when my characters of any age attempt, just like the 14-year-olds they were once, to look down her dress.


Sometimes it matters because the genre of the story demands it for establishing the setting.

Crumbly Writer

@Ernest Bywater

There are significant differences between a solely written media and a visual media. However, when you check the screenplays for most movies and plays they do not detail every item of dress or food in the scene, but usually leave that up to whoever is doing it to select what to put there. Even in period pieces they usually describe it as formal clothes or casual etc., and leave it up to the director or producer to select what they have. In written works you do the same thing, and leave it up to the reader to choose what they have most of the time.

This is consistent with how most readers read. Whatever you list as a character's description, readers will overlay your description with their own. If you need part of their description for the plot, you've GOT to repeat it several times, to burn it into the reader's memory.

That's because author descriptions, while often beautifully written, are largely meaningless to readers, and immaterial to their overall enjoyment of the story.

It's a handy way into the story for both readers and author, however descriptions really aren't anything more than that. Once you've laid it out, forget it and move on, since few will remember the details anyway.

Replies:   Dominions Son
robberhands

There wouldn't be a story longer than a few pages if only things advancing the plot would be written. How much description and which things are worth to describe is like always a matter of personal preferences. Some people like the fastest road to reach their destination and otheres prefer a scenic route.

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
Crumbly Writer

@Geek of Ages

I disagree. I enjoy reading those sorts of things, because it helps me visualize what's going on. Stories shorn from time and place for lack of those descriptions end up feeling stale and drab to me.

I agree with this, up to a point. If you're good with descriptions—not every author is—then a poet's flair for language and description can greatly add to a scene, but in the end, all it does is add ambiance for a short time before it's discarded by the reader, thus it's not worth investing much time over, as reader's rarely remember the details. It's worth mentioning, but not belaboring—unless you're repeating the essential details so they will remember them later when it's important for the story.

Crumbly Writer

@Geek of Ages

The books that do this (and analogously watchers with movies, etc) are in my experience nothing more than anodyne pablum. I want to read stories that are interesting, not something engineered to capture every possible demographic.

There's a HUGE difference between writing 'gun' or 'shopping' porn, and 'writing to attract the most readers'. I'm not suggesting abandoning descriptions entirely, I'm saying, in most cases, it's directed at a target audience who AREN'T the actual people reading the story.

How often have you read a story (think "Sex in the City") and thought "Who the hell acts like this?". "What's their preoccupation with overpriced shoes? Get over yourself lady!"

For someone immersed in that particular scene, it's 'setting the scene', for everyone else, it's pure nonsense and completely immaterial to the overall story.

Be as florid as you want in your descriptions, but be economical. Consider them like an accent in that they really don't amount to more than fluff, and are quickly forgotten, so you don't wax on about the details indefinitely. Just say it, get it over with, and then move on to the central story.

The more you rant about how 'beautiful' something is, the more others will think 'I just don't get it. She seems plain as dirt to me!'

Crumbly Writer

@robberhands

There wouldn't be a story longer than a few pages if only things advancing the plot would be written.

Character descriptions advance the plot. So too does establishing the scene. What doesn't advance the plot, is detailing ever minor observations, ranting on and on about things of little avail. That's why I draw the parallels to 'shoe porn'. For someone with a shoe or foot fetish, it's out-and-out porn, but for everyone else, it's just nonsense that means nothing to them at all.

Replies:   Dominions Son
robberhands

@Crumbly Writer

How often have you read a story (think "Sex in the City") and thought "Who the hell acts like this?". "What's their preoccupation with overpriced shoes? Get over yourself lady!"

That's pretty much the same I thought watching those scenes, and it's also the reason those scenes are important to me; they are character defining.

Dominions Son

@Crumbly Writer

That's because author descriptions, while often beautifully written, are largely meaningless to readers, and immaterial to their overall enjoyment of the story.


For some readers maybe, but that is certainly not true of all readers.

Dominions Son

@Crumbly Writer

What doesn't advance the plot, is detailing ever minor observations


I can agree with this as a general principal, but I reserve the right to disagree on the specifics of what constitutes a "minor" observation.

ranting on and on about things of little avail.


This is utterly without meaning absent a common and objective criteria for what is and/or is not of "little avail"

Geek of Ages

@Crumbly Writer

How often have you read a story (think "Sex in the City") and thought "Who the hell acts like this?". "What's their preoccupation with overpriced shoes? Get over yourself lady!"


I never watched "Sex and the City". But I did read "The Devil Wears Prada", and I never once thought that sort of thing. Just because I'm not in the fashion industry doesn't mean I can't apppreciate characters who are, and what they'd notice.

It's part of building empathy: reading stories by people outside of my bubble gives me a chance to see the world the way they do, and to understand them better. I don't have to be constrained to only reading about my interests, and complaining when other people write about theirs.

Yes, it can be done to a ridiculous extreme (the military/gun detailing I often see around here occasionally hits that point), but that's not very common, in my experience.

Joe Long

@Bondi Beach

like when my characters of any age attempt, just like the 14-year-olds they were once, to look down her dress.


Exactly why my 14 year old female lead was wearing a yellow sundress to the baseball game...and when she was jumping up and down so hard after the game winning homer that she had a wardrobe malfunction.

richardshagrin

@Ernest Bywater

Most of the time what they eat and what they wear is irrelevant

Except for Naked in School stories, what they wear is mostly what the story is about. And as far as I know I am not the only male who is interested in the girl's pubic hair. Assuming they are wearing any. And none is also worth reading about.

PotomacBob

@Geek of Ages

For those of us who don't use big words, I looked up verisimilitude. It means truthiness.

Replies:   Geek of Ages
Geek of Ages

@PotomacBob

I would say there to be a subtle difference between the two. Verisimilitude is exactly what its roots indicate: the appearance (simil) of truth (veri). Truthiness, on the other hand, is a word used to satirize people who believe things because they feel them to be true, not because there's actually any evidence.

awnlee jawking

@robberhands

I received positive feedback from two supposedly female readers


Two is a long way short of what's necessary to make any kind of statistical inference but at least it's encouraging.

I wasn't keen on your story at first - I found the opening rather depressing - but the latest chapter has kicked it into a new orbit. Keep up the good work!

AJ

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