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04/16/2008: Costume Customs
A blog letter just arrived in one of those little packets you get from the post office when their equipment mangles a letter. This envelope inside is missing about a third of itself, resulting in a letter that's missing its corners, although not in that cool Battlestar Galactica way. Luckily for Gentle Reader Maryanne in [town name torn away], Australia, very little of the actual content of the letter was obscured.
Maryanne writes to ask:
Obviously, costumes are chosen by costume designers, rather than writers. But if the costume is actually mentioned in the script (like, for example, Riley's "clown pants" in The Yoko Factor.), how much specific description would the writer give in [word torn away, assume "the"] script?
Well, I don't have a copy of Doug's script for The Yoko Factor. I've found one on line, but I can't tell if it's the actual script or a transcript. At any rate, the line of stage description that I found reads: "Riley pulls a pair of hideous multi-colored weight lifter pants from the knapsack," which sounds about right. That's the degree of detail you'd generally give.
Wardrobe description, by the way, was something I found very confusing as I set out to write my very first scripts. I knew that clothing was part of what defined characters, but once I started describing the characters clothes, I felt like I needed to do it for every scene in order to be consistent. So I went overboard. I recently read a script by a new writer who had clearly fallen into the same line of thought, telling the reader what everyone was wearing in every scene. That's not only unnecessary, but it's distracting, since it makes the reader think that these details are going to be important, raising expectations that don't pay off.
Mention clothes when you first introduce someone, if it's important to the character ("She's the sort of young woman who insists on dressing like a teen-aged boy, right now in tennis shoes, jeans and a hoodie."), and when something significant is happening with the clothes ("His suit is rumpled and a pair of women's underwear dangles from his pocket."), and when they help define a supporting character ("Men in white coats enter through both doors simultaneously.")
Beyond that, if you assume your characters are dressed appropriately, given their characters and their surroundings, your readers will assume the same and it'll be fine to leave everything unspecified.
And if, like Riley's pants, you need to describe some oddity, do it clearly and succinctly, and don't feel like you can't convey an attitude about it, as "hideous" does in the example.
Hope that helps, Maryanne from mystery town!
Lunch: cup o' noodles, fig newtons