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wardrobe-spectrumOne key to writing a great book is achieving balance between dialogue and description.

Whether your book is set in modern digs or ancient realms, your characters should carry a mirror of that era in their attire. The key is adding enough apparel detail that it reinforces the setting, without bogging the reader down or detracting from the plot.

Knowing where you fall as a writer on what I call the Wardrobe Spectrum is important. Are you bare bones (a Puritan), or overly lavish (a Royalist)? Somewhere in between?

I admit I’m a Royalist. It’s easy for me to go overboard when it comes to historical garb. I love describing every frill, ribbon, and furbelow. Odd’s fish! I could care less about modern fashion, but break out the corsets and farthingales, and I’m in.

Whenever a masque or a ball took place in my earlier books, it wasn’t uncommon for me to drone on for paragraphs, if not pages, describing the entire cast’s ensemble. I can chuckle now over reader remarks about my enthusiastic role as virtual wardrobe mistress, but at the time, I was bewildered by the gentle criticism. What? Doesn’t everyone love such garment minutia, like a blow-by-blow description of how snowy lace looks falling across mauve silk velvet?

My writing partner, Darby, told me she had the opposite experience when writing her solo books. Her skill and preference for writing dialogue dominated scenes, resulting in the dreaded “talking heads” syndrome. Her characters could be naked for all the reader knew. Yes, dialogue can be powerful, fast moving, but just like a whitewater river, it can sweep away important details if you’re not careful.

Fine Line ’tween Talking Heads and Wardrobe Overdose

Navigating the Wardrobe Spectrum takes skill and practice, whether you’re a modern fashionista or a historical habiliment fiend. If you’re a Royalist, it’s easy to cross that line and smother your readers in frilly details (mea culpa). If you’re a Puritan, you may leave them craving color or hungry for a hint of flavor.

Aim for balance, and when the writing is done and your editor’s eye is engaged, remember to riffle through your characters’ closets. Add or remove raiment as needed.


One reason Brit Darby’s writing partnership works so well is that we balance each other in this area. When I gallop out of control describing the duds, Darby gently reins me in. And if she ever leaves our hero chatting up the other characters stark naked in a scene, I promise I’ll rush to the rescue and stick him in a pair of nattily beribboned breeks.