The Fabric: Linen
Last week one of my readers decided to give the color wheel a spin to see if she could add a three-dimensional layer to an important secondary character by adding color to her costume. She wanted the heroine to hate this secondary character at first meeting, but then learn to love her as she became a calming and reassuring force in the heroine’s life.
Here’s what she wrote:
Jackie enters the room, shoulder-length blonde hair sweeping the shoulders of her deep sapphire-blue silk top. Heels the exact same shade of blue peek from below her fashion jeans. The epitome of shabby chic—and as elegant as a well-cut jewel. Next to Jackie, I feel like a middle-aged matron in my denim and sensible loafers, a brown wren next to a peacock.
Jackie, an obviously striking woman, could have made her stage entrance wearing a multitude of stylish choices. Feeling frumpy next to a Barbie doll is a universal reaction every woman understands, including our heroine who immediately feels intimidated. We all know what it feels like to hate the head cheerleader. We can see her sashaying down the hall, her thick blond ponytail catching the attention of every male within a 100 yards. We can feel our shoulders sag as we melt into our locker or tug at our ratty sweater to hide our imperfections. By inciting this familiar visceral feeling of inadequacy in the reader, this writer breathed life into both characters.
But what about choosing blue for Jackie’s costume? By choosing blue, a color that denotes the serenity we associate with clear skies or tropical beaches, Jackie’s inner sense of peace is also subliminally communicated to the reader. Blue is a clue to the reader that something good may very likely come from this relationship. And the need to discover exactly what that something is draws the heroine to Jackie again and again. Without telling the reader of the possibilities of this relationship, this writer showed us. Bravo, daring writer.
Now, let’s talk fabric:
“Whoever dies with the most fabric wins.” –my mother, an avid quilter
When last we left Alfred, he was wearing cream. Not your typical male suit color, I admit. And to top it off, Kate has chosen linen, an even more unlikely fabric choice for a man.
Why? Here’s my guesstimation:
Linen is one of the most impossible fabrics ever invented. Linen offers no forgiveness. Every wrinkle, every spot or blemish shows. One must take extra precautions if one intends to remain presentable while wearing linen. Not your typical tough-guy fabric choice. The maintenance demands of this delicate fabric (especially in the early 1900’s) required the financial means to care for it or the ability to replace ruined garment pieces.
Without writing a word about Alfred’s financial affairs, dressing him in linen gives the reader an immediate status report on Alfred’s place in society. This man’s ability to purchase and wear such an expensive and high maintenance fabric thrusts him into society’s upper echelon. Can’t you just see Alfred standing on the upper rung of the social ladder? If so, maybe you can see him standing a little taller, lifting his nose in the air, and his eyes clouded with judgment, especially when he’s in the company of those who have not.
Linen gives us a glimpse into Alfred’s bank account, and this information gives the reader mental body movements to layer into their characterization of him. And this layer was added with one costuming word…linen.
But is the state of Alfred’s wealth the only reason the author chose this fabric for Alfred’s suit? I suspect not.
Because maintaining linen is such a chore, Alfred must be careful. His physical movements in a filthy Chinese market would be limited, his arms kept close to the body, perhaps palming his jacket against his core for fear of soiling his clothes or himself. Immediately, the reader has a sense of Alfred’s caution, his resistance to dangerous situations. Ironically, Alfred does jump into a relational quagmire in this foreign land, one that stands to sully his pristine character. Leaping into such a mess wearing cream linen creates a wonderful opportunity for his character’s growth. The reader, poised to believe one thing about Alfred, now feels Alfred’s inner tension and it is in the reader’s identification of this tension that Alfred once again flutters with life.
Google fabric lists this week or take a moment to walk through a fabric store and run your hands along the bolts of cloth. Note textures, rigidity, even smell. Crush the corner of the fabric and see if it wrinkles or if it has the memory of polyester and immediately returns to its original state.
Then consider what fabric to use for your character’s costume. Are they a free-spirit? Consider chiffon, something that flows in the wind and swirls about them. Are they gruff, bristling the emotions of everyone they come in contact with? How about dressing them in scratchy wool or a tough gabardine that protects them from allowing anyone to get too close.
Whatever you do, dress them. Then write something and send it to me and we’ll see if we can discern a layer of your character.
Next Monday we’ll take a look at garment construction and it’s influence upon a character’s movements. We’ll contrast Alfred’s rigid linen suit with Jackie’s silky blouse and see what happens.