Describing a character's outfit theme or motif without being too obvious

by Nathan
(Denver)

Question: I am currently working on a novel & 2 of the characters in my story have outfits which revolve around a theme; one has pie themed outfits (e.g. Blackberry) and the other has ice cream themed outfits, with their outfits changing to a different "Flavor" in every chapter where the characters are present, be it just one of them or both. I'm stuck however on how to describe their outfits' appearances without being too obvious. But to give the reader a challenge in figuring out what flavor the outfit is based on. Example of a pie themed outfit would be something like tan hat, black shirt & black shoes (crust & filling).


Answer: I think you may need to be a lot more obvious than that.

Most people will read a description like the one you gave ("tan hat, black shirt & black shoes") and not think "blackberry pie." Without more obvious clues, readers may not take up the challenge you're creating for them.

You might need to spell it out, especially the first time these characters appear. For instance, you might have the narrator say something like "John's monochromatic outfits, stacked underneath his pastry-coloured hat, made him look like a slice of pie. Today's filling was blackberry..."

After you've done this a couple of times, to establish the pattern, you may be able to step back a little and let the readers figure out the flavours on their own from then on.

Of course, what you are doing is not just describing the secondary characters but also telling the reader something about the narrator or POV character -- that they see people's outfits as food choices. Perhaps they are obsessed with food for some reason, or see other people as something to be consumed. (You can have a lot of fun with these types of metaphors.)

Best of luck.

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