Friday, 3 August 2018

Creative Writing Pick-Me-Ups

All artists go through a period of creative block every once in a while, whether it is paintings they produce, or prose. What can be more frustrating than having a goal or deadline to meet, only to find yourself slipping into a routine of getting nothing done? Inspiration is a fickle thing, and so you have to grab it when it comes and then wrangle with it to stay, like some kind of wild, frenzied animal that wants feeding at the strangest of hours and then takes off the minute the front door is left ajar.
Left stunned from the inspiration beast’s great escape, what you need is a restorative, or a writing pick-me-up! Here are some of the things that help me when I’ve been left feeling beaten down after a battle with the beast. Perhaps you can also give them a go when creativity has gone out the window.

New Books - Ellie Morris

Take a break
This may seem like it defeats the purpose of trying to get back into a creative writing flow, but sometimes you just need to let go for a while. There’s no use in trying to force things, as it will only frustrate you further. Don’t feel bad about it, but pick up some of your other hobbies instead. It should be something relatively easy and enjoyable. I recently got back into photography and drawing, for example.

Find something new
Shuffle through some different playlists on Spotify and find a new song that you like, go through random articles on Wikipedia until you discover something worth perusal, start a new hobby which has been on your mind for a while now, take a trip out of town and go sightseeing, buy a new book, watch a film in a different genre… You might just find something that can join the missing links between plot point A and character B, or an idea for a new story. It’s unlikely that you can gather enough information for new ideas or motivation when you’re sitting still, watching the cursor blink on the screen, and doing the same old things every time.

Read lots
Lots and lots and lots, whenever or wherever you can. Unwind with old favourites which you have found interesting and inspiring before and explore new genres. If you’re finding fantasy or historical fiction old hat, dig up a classic novel to check out at the library or buy something from a relatively new author whose work you haven’t seen yet. Take a chance, for a balance of new and old can get you on an even keel again. Just keep reading, keep learning, keep persevering.

Read about writing, too
I’m sure you’ll always find new hints and tips! Search for creative writing blogs to follow and drop by the bookstore to look through novels written on the subject. Everybody has at least some room for improvement, and it’s important to recognise that and take steps to see how other people keep up their motivation and reach success. As a side note, I’m re-reading Stephen King’s “On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft”, and even in this guide he lists lots of further references, meaning that I’ll be drowning in new improvement books to buy (my bank account doesn’t like it, but yay, I guess).
In the case of blogs, other people’s passion for writing can get you excited and ready to write again, too. Bouncing ideas back and forth with a writer friend will make the whole novel-writing journey easier!

Make mood boards
Gather pretty pictures and slam them down on a page. Write around those pictures. Just scribble, scrawl, doodle, draw, and fling paint around like you’re some kind of modern artist in an awful funk. If mum asks about the acid green paint on the ceiling, just say that it’s all for a good cause. But what does the green paint mean? Something about the colour green is calling you, and it must mean something. Write it down. Write anything down. And get messy with the glue. Afterwards, take a step back and try to figure out the bigger picture. How do those colours and things relate to your current piece? How are any of them connected to the current scene? Do they string together at all? Is it an environment, a person or an emotion? Can it lead to new things? Or is your room just in good need of a tidy right now?

Set a goal
Try for 500 words, even if you know they will turn out to be nonsense. Just get something down on the blank page. Don’t mull it over too much, but let it be a stream of consciousness uninterrupted by doubts or extravagant goals. Make a cup of tea or coffee before starting, get comfy, and then reward yourself with a small sweet treat afterwards. Next time, make the goal slightly bigger, until you’re back into your usual routine.

Change of scene
Take your laptop to a local café and camp out for the day. Make sure to take headphones and plenty of money for caffeinated drinks, and find a quiet corner to spread out notebooks, documents, and battle plans. If you don’t fancy spending any money, bring a notebook along to a park or garden and sit with nature, taking notes on what you see. Think about your story without actually having it there to intimidate you; this can offer a new perspective, as more often than not the finer, minute details are forgotten and the story is back to its original outlines, which is what drew you in to write the story in the first place. Just sitting somewhere other than at your desk (or wherever else you spend day after day for the task) can make things more interesting.

I hope somebody will find at least one point in this list helpful. Please let me know in the comments if you have any more ideas!


Wednesday, 11 July 2018

Books on my Nightstand: The Children of Wilton Chase, L.T. Meade

On my older blog I used to do a lot of book reviews. I didn't like that they were smashed between my dressmaking diaries and fashion/lifestyle posts like a strange, thematically unappealing cocktail, so I neglected them in the end, along with my original blog (but I do have plans to revive Miss Morris, so stay tuned...). This blog is more focused around my original writing posts, plus illustrations, personal logs, and photography, but since it's a record of everything I find interesting, it would be nice to bring back my thoughts on the books I read!

There is a charity-run bookstore in my town, which is coincidentally a branch of the animal shelter I work in. I used to go there a lot years ago, but kind of forgot about it until just recently. As soon as you walk inside the door, you are faced with a huge bookcase filled with old, musty, and quite pretty-looking books labelled as "collectables". How I forgot about that shop, I don't know.
The first thing I spot is absinthe green with a glimmer of gold, and I am immediately intrigued. Picking up the book, I realise that it has a Victorian girl on the spine, printed in faded coppery tones. The cover is equally as beautiful, promising adventure and sweet, easy-going tales with affluent, well-dressed Victorian children.
Well, there wasn't much else needed to convince me to buy it after that point, even without a synopsis or any other indication of the plot. The cover alone was irresistible.
I knew I would love it, and I was right. Sometimes taking a chance does pay off, especially if the book is cheap - I only paid £2.99 and I'm pretty sure that I'll treasure it in my collection for many years to come!

I didn't really know what to expect when I opened up the front cover. A small boy that once lived locally had lovingly written his name and address on one of the front pages, and a small note from the seller indicated that the volume was published in 1891. The back pages contained an extensive catalogue of the other books and series that the publisher offered, and they seemed to have a common theme as being "suitable gifts for school prize givings" (I actually managed to pick up another book from the same publisher in the shop - score!).
This book was obviously intended for children and pre-teens to enjoy, so I found it to be a light-hearted, fun read, riddled with messages of morality and good values, just as you would expect from a children's author in the Victorian era.

Wilton Chase is a huge, breathtaking stately home located somewhere in the English countryside, run by the widower Mr Wilton, who has many, many children, each one of them wild, rambunctious, and still aching from the death of their mother. Mr Wilton seemed like a very absent father to me, only setting aside one day a year to spend quality time with his children, and that is his birthday. His poor kids aren't even allowed to share the same building with him, and are confined to a separate wing... Therefore, the children are governed by a dear friend of their deceased mother, a long-suffering but ultimately kind woman named Miss Nelson. This kind of family dynamic wasn't unusual for the time period, but I still felt very bad for both the children and the nanny, since it seemed to me that the lack of parents/warmth contributed to a lot of the rebellion and bad decisions made by the children in this story.
Whilst the author did not condone any of their actions, she wrote of them fondly, with a great sense of understanding and sympathy, which I really liked. The children and nanny all got the happy ending I was rooting for, and there was none of the "little Johnny fell down a well and died because very bad things will happen to naughty children who steal" kind of spiel that I anticipated from this sort of story.
Most of the story is from fourteen year-old Ermengarde's point of view, and whilst she seems like a very rotten, selfish girl at first, I became rather attached to her and her plight. She has a great love for her elder brother, Basil, him being her closest friend, confidant, and the only one she seems to feel affectionate towards. It is the love for her brother, and her ardent dislike of her nanny, which sets her up for a disastrous chain of events when she was forbidden to ride in the carriage to pick Basil up from his boarding school. Seething over her punishment, she disobeys Miss Nelson and joins her father on the journey anyway, and one small lie became another, and another, and another, until she became completely tangled in them, risking further punishments and losing the high esteem that Basil had for her... Ermengarde was not a perfect character by any means, but my heart broke for her when she was so sure that her brother would not love her anymore due to a petty crime that was not her fault.
The class distinctions in Wilton Chase were a very notable theme, Ermengarde being forbidden by her father to associate with twelve year-old Susan, a farm girl that lived on their estate. Locked up in Miss Nelson's parlour while the rest of her siblings were enjoying a picnic in the fields, the poor girl was lonelier than ever, and when she spotted Susan gathering eggs beneath her window, she found her boredom relieved by Suzy climbing through the window and joining her in the locked parlour. They share a dinner and Ermie feels comforted by the girl's sympathetic words.
Miss Nelson evidently felt bad for leaving Ermie out of the picnic when her brothers were home for the summer, and came back for her. In a panic, Ermengarde forced Susan into a cupboard and locked it so that the nanny would not see her unbidden guest, then heading down to meet her siblings. Despite having what she wanted, she could not relax for the thought of her friend suffocating and screaming inside the cupboard, so she made an excuse to go back to the room and rescue Susan. In her haste to get back to the picnic, she leaves the girl alone in Miss Nelson's parlour, who, tempted by the resemblance to herself she saw in a miniature hanging on the nanny's wall, pocketed it and ran home, justifying it by the thought that she was too poor to afford a photograph or miniature of herself, so the portrait could be a memento of her beauty.
The miniature had a lot of sentimental value to Miss Nelson, and she was rightly devastated to find it missing from her wall. Everyone seemed to expect that Ermengarde had something to do with its disappearance, but it was only when Susan fell and broke her leg, ending up extremely miserable, feverish, and near death, that the culprit confessed her sin to Ermengarde.
Not wanting to get her friend or herself in trouble, Ermie has to jump through a lot of hoops and disobey her nanny and father even more, in order to return the memento to its rightful owner... It was only with the help of her kind-hearted, good and honest younger sister, Marjorie (who, although taking a kind of background role throughout the story, was actually a very sweet character and the key to resolving all those issues), that everybody ended up reconciling, Susan heals, and Miss Nelson gets back her beloved miniature.

The plot was relatively straightforward and I got through the book within a couple of days; I enjoyed it so much that I ended up thinking about it during my daily routines, and I couldn't wait until nine o'clock to get back into bed and spend hours reading about the characters that soon felt like friends. With a mug of hot chocolate, The Children of Wilton Chase, and a handful of cherries, the hours before sleep became like heaven! Call me childish, but I really loved it that much! There were also about six black and white illustrations throughout, all very delicate and beautiful. I couldn't wait to see each new one as the story unfolded.

All in all, it was very wholesome and heartwarming - a very good pick-me-up after reading Lautreamont's "Maldoror"!
At the moment I'm reading Mary Shelley's Frankenstein for the first time, and I'm absolutely loving it! What are you currently reading? Let me know in the comments below!


Friday, 6 July 2018

Fragments: Maxime meets Leopold

Recently I've been thinking that it would be nice to introduce a new series to my blog, called "fragments". These kinds of entries will be based around small selections of my writing that I find interesting or meaningful, but will not include any spoilers or otherwise important aspects to the plots of my stories. Kind of like giving a 'taster' of my writing!

Scraps of “L'hôtel des Roches Noires”  - Ellie Morris

Below is a scene in my novel "Maxime", from chapter two. Maxime is a work in progress, and I'm currently at 37,000 words, but this particular scene has been edited and reworked quite a lot this year, since it was the selection I submitted to my university application.

In this chapter, Maxime is twelve years old and about to embark on a new adventure - the first day of his acting career, on set! He meets his strange, subdued co-star, Leopold, who becomes an important character in Maxime's story. 
The synopsis for my novel is here, if you are interested.

“How is your sister? Feeling better?”
“She has her surgery tomorrow. It seems to be very painful for her. My parents were rather upset that she got sick very quickly, and at such a bad time.” Maxime smiled apologetically at his manager, as a slight guilt for mentioning the timing of her illness was nibbling at him. “I wish I could have stayed to cheer her up.”
“I’m sure it will cheer her up to know that you are taking a huge leap in your career,” Monsieur Borde said, with a frankness that suggested Max was crazy to even think of staying with his sister.
With a nod of his head, Maxime climbed into the man’s sporty vehicle. His eyes were on the city unfolding around him. With a dusty blue sky, everything seemed to be covered in a slight haze. Cars crawled down the roads like big, blocky beetles in bottle green, chocolate brown, and sleek black. There were dark rain clouds gathering in the west, and a certain frostiness remained from the biting winter months they had endured in Paris. Both the elegant and the scruffy strode down and congregated in the streets, princes and paupers alike, hustling along to keep warm and reach their destinations. It seemed to Maxime that everybody who populated cities always seemed to be in such a rush, especially those from the most important metropolises around the world; nothing could slow them down, and he was glad to be in the car, as he was often skirted around like an annoyance and overtaken by gangly-legged men and brisk-walking, important-looking women in hats and heels.
 “We’ll be about forty to forty-five minutes, I suppose,” Borde said, and then looked rather anxious. “You don’t get travel sick, do you?”
Maxime assured him that he did not have motion sickness.
Guaranteed that the boy wouldn’t make a mess of his cushy new car, he sped off into the juncture — rather too fast for Maxime’s liking, but he kept his mouth shut. Once they joined the other cars in the meander down busy Parisian blocks, they slowed to a more amiable pace. Monsieur Borde tapped the wheel with his fingernails in distaste.
“I hate driving in the cities,” he commented. “Such a drag. The countryside is more fun, you’ll see.”
Max’s face paled. He rather enjoyed the snail-like crawl, and the slight movements of the car every twenty seconds rocked him like a baby. But once in the outskirts, things were speeding up a bit.
Fearing crashing and burning on his first day of his acting career, he clutched the edges of his seat and kept his back ramrod straight against the chair. The joy-riding Monsieur took his silence as appreciation for the fast life, as the boy’s face displayed no signs of discomfort.
“Fun, isn’t it?” he hollered over the roaring engine.
Max had no words. He could only let out a shrill, giddy laugh as his stomach performed somersaults and other acrobatic feats.
Soon, they were rolling across the gravel leading to the studio. If Maxime’s legs were trembling after his earlier journey, they nearly collapsed beneath him as he attempted to follow Borde’s lead to the entrance. For a split second his knees touched the gravel, but he quickly sprung back up like a Jack-in-the-Box as though it had never happened.
 “Maxime has arrived just now,” Borde called out to the halls, which wasn’t exactly embarrassing to the boy, but he wished that he could have made a more subdued entry.
Quickly, Borde briefed him. “They are a bit older than you, the other actors. Just remember your age, and to respect your elders, and you’ll be fine.”
Max’s pleasant nerves at the idea of meeting his co-stars quickly turned to sawdust in the pit of his stomach, heavy and indigestible. He went red, and then he went white.
“Do you think we’ll all get along?”
He knew he couldn’t survive in such a place if everybody loathed him or saw him as a little brat to be ignored, yet he put on a cheeky, provocative tone to hide the rise of emotion in his chest.
Monsieur Borde ignored his question, and as they turned a corner in the labyrinth-like palace of props, costumes and cameras, a young man popped into view.
He was conversing with another gentleman about thirty years his senior, and spoke in a hushed, secretive tone. There was a dull flush on his face when Maxime and Monsieur Borde approached, and he stopped the conversation short to consider the approaching duo markedly. Mostly, his dark eyes were on Max.
 “Leopold, this is Maxime de Faye,” the director, whom Max had met only once, proclaimed. “And Max, meet Leopold Ronis.”
Max stared back at the boy stood before him, gazing unabashedly, which made the director click his tongue and titter artlessly.
“I bet you two will get along famously,” he said with excitement, clapping Ronis forcibly on the back, who stumbled a little and began to look more uncomfortable than ever.
“We have our fingers crossed,” Monsieur Borde grinned.

Saturday, 9 June 2018

What's Left Behind in the Graveyard Maze

There's something really fascinating about instant cameras in this day and age. The fact that it prints immediately, and that you only have a limited amount of shots on the film roll make the moments more memorable, in a way. For a while I have wanted to go back to this particular graveyard in my town, which was once a place that I saw everyday from my bedroom window. Even when I moved house, the graveyard seemed to follow me, at least subconsciously. 

I have always found it a place of tranquillity and beauty, nothing sinister about it. As a child, it was just there, a part of everyday life, but in recent years I have dreamt of it on an almost regular basis. I have quite a few recurring dreams, so this was not distressing to me. In fact, the dreamy version of this cemetery is something that I can recall vividly; it sprawls across the hills for miles and miles - hundreds of acres, even - with each tombstone a work of art, packed in like sardines, and the early morning sky a dusky blue. 
Every dream has a different landscape, shifting into new things in each one, but somehow I know it is the same place, presenting a different guise. It is lush and crowded, covered with green. Unearthly, yet radiating peacefulness and a distant sense of melancholy, which doesn't quite touch me. Time stands still. It always does in the graveyard.
Eventually the sun begins to set, and a whole day has passed with me wandering the grounds or propped up against a tombstone. The sky is cast with buttermilk yellow clouds, and I lie down to rest. There is no point trying to get home, for I have walked too far to get back before nightfall. Yet somehow this doesn't worry me, I'm languid and calm. 

You can perhaps see why I was eager to get back. I find it a very interesting and pretty place, and although I don't know what my recurring dreams mean, I rather like them. It changes every time I visit, so this time I came armed with my Instax camera and a phone to take video footage.

I was not disappointed at all to find that due to the current weather, the entire place has been sun-bleached, adding to the sense of overgrowth and decay; one time years and years ago, I actually got a bit dizzy and fell as I walked through the grass. It was also summertime, in the midst of the ragged, angel-strewn paths. I was a bit stunned, so I just laid there, feeling the sun on my skin. The grass was dead, just as it was when I visited yesterday, and felt more like straw, scratching my arms and clinging to my hair and clothes. The heat and vast blue sky (which didn't quite make it into my photos, for some reason) reminded me of that day.

Perhaps due to budget cuts in my area, the graveyard seems to have withered and decayed even more since the last time I saw it. The church is boarded up, its peeling green doors double padlocked and coated with webs, and the caretaker's house has long been deserted, probably as long as I have been alive. The windows once had lace curtains, but now they have been torn down and replaced with wood painted black. Tombs have fallen from their foundations due to the recent snow, and the angels are bound with thorny branches. I found a pink silk rose, thrown nonchalantly to the statue of Jesus. Nearby, a bush had been dislodged from its roots and looked as though it had fallen from the sky, sitting next to the grave of a woman called Margaret. But despite the decline in care, wild poppies have sprouted in clusters around the entrance, and swallows dart through the air like missiles.

Last night I spent a few hours learning how to use a video editing software so that I could make this very short film. It is not perfect, or even good, by any means, but I had a lot of fun cutting clips and editing it all together! Here is the result:

The angel headstones are probably my favourite part of the place, which gave the name to my blog: "Nocturne des Anges". It can either mean a Nocturne piece of music, since I love classical music (especially Satie), or a nighttime scene, bringing to mind angels singing in the night.
If you watch, I hope you enjoy seeing the features of the graveyard as much as I enjoyed filming them!


Thursday, 31 May 2018

Remnants: Heatwave, Snapshots, Collections

I apologise for the long delay in posting here on the blog! The past month or so have soared by, just as a cloud sails through the sky; it may appear slow to those laying in the long grass and pointing out peculiar shapes, but much higher up, closer to what is really happening, the wind is pushing the cloud at a surprisingly fast speed. That is how time feels for me, as of late. Things are slow and peaceful in the moment, but when I really think about it, the days are escaping me, as it is June already! I totally forgot to post this month, even though I had a couple of ideas.

There isn't much news to report from the writing front. I did, however, get a new laptop that I'm hoping will see me through university (I accepted my place for Creative Writing this month, too). My last one was very old, slow and heavy - much like myself lately, so who can blame it? - and seemed to suffer with fainting spells, overheating and then blacking out. This naturally made chronicling Maxime's life quite difficult, so it was high time to dive into my savings for a new laptop to abuse.

Whilst dallying around the chore of copying everything from my deceased laptop to my brand spanking new one, and installing Scrivener once again (why all the little tiny files, Scrivener?) I began some more research for Maxime, which was a great distraction from basically everything else. Armed with highlighters and gel pens, I can make some damn good notes. Unfortunately I become so absorbed in research that I forget to write the actual story, so I'm still on 32,000+ words right now. The story is starting to get pretty intense though, so perhaps my characters needed a little rest... (or maybe I just need a kick up the bum).

I've been very into photography lately, which has also become a nice diversion from what I should be doing. Both digital and film are interesting to me, so I have been experimenting with film cameras (mostly an Instax mini 9 as a starter camera, and then a Kodak funsaver disposable which I picked up on a whim to see if I like it).
I will show a couple of pics here; the first few are of a trip I took to Leamington-spa and Warwick Castle in early April, then there is a photo of the wildflowers I gathered on the banks of a bridge outside my grandmother's house. The last one was taken today, on a country trail.

Jephson Gardens, Leamington-Spa - Ellie Morris

More of Jephson Gardens and an urn at Warwick Castle - Ellie Morris

Warwick Castle - Ellie Morris

I've also taken up scrapbooking again, pressing flowers between my heavy dressmaking books and tearing up old leaflets. It's really the little things that make me happy, such as taking photos and finding beautiful flowers and plants on walks. Currently there is a heatwave in England, which I mostly stay inside to avoid, but the summer sunshine and rain really bring out the beauty of what lies outside my closed curtains and locked door.

A Posy of Forget-me-nots - Ellie Morris

I suppose I have a huge case of wanderlust, wanting to see and do everything I can. This may be why I take my camera everywhere and come up with a never ending list of places I wish to go. From my bedroom everything seems so far away, especially since I'm sick a lot of the time, but it's nice to take things slowly sometimes.

A bench covered in nettles on a country trail in Cheshire - Ellie Morris

I was very glad to hear this week that my family have finally decided where we will be going on holiday this summer - we're going to Portugal for the first time! Portugal has been on my dream travel list for a while now, and although it isn't Lisbon as I planned, it will be very exciting!
I have started collecting Victorian CDVs (Carte de Visites, or 'visiting cards' in English, which are basically small studio photographic portraits that people used to exchange and collect in albums, taken of family members and friends). Hopefully I can find some in Portugal, too, in some antique shop or market... There is something strange but fulfilling about collecting the portraits of long-gone strangers from all around the world, gathering people together that most likely never would have breathed the same air.

I'm just going completely mad about my collections lately. Small, meaningless things that don't have much value, but that I love to pour over and seek out, such as postcards, photos, antique and vintage books and magazines, etc. When I was younger I used to collect rocks and crystals rather than play with toys, so I suppose collecting is just one of those creature comforts that I always fall back on when I'm not feeling very creative.

The Painter (I decided to call him Edwin) - Ellie Morris

Swedish boy from 1906, whom I named Alexander - Ellie Morris

Well-dressed siblings, named Tobias and Louisa - Ellie Morris

Hopefully I can get out of this rut soon, and it will be business as usual, both for my novels, and for this blog!


Sunday, 29 April 2018

Maxime Illustrations Part I

Unfortunately I haven't had much opportunity or desire to draw or paint much, until just recently. It's been a dream of mine for a while now to make a very special edition of one of my stories, complete with glossy illustrations dotted throughout the chapters, hardback, with a lovely dust jacket and gold lettering... (I could even paste in the Ex Libris that my dear friend's sister inked for me... *sighs dreamily*) 
Naturally, when the urge to draw came over me again, my thoughts turned to Maxime, the character of my upcoming novel! 

Hiding - © Ellie Morris

In this case, I wanted to sketch out how certain characters looked, what they were wearing, and their expressions in particular scenes. What I intended to just be a character design of Maxime, turned into a fully-shaded illustration, also featuring Leopold and the dastardly Monsieur Dalle! I was having far too much fun adding details, shadows, and more characters to it. 

It shows a scene from Chapter 2, where Maxime is caught in an awkward situation, listening to his new co-star, Leopold, and his director, Dalle, talking about him. He hides in the bathroom to avoid them (Dalle especially, since he makes him deeply uncomfortable from day one), but in this picture I had him hiding behind the boxes of props and cameras to avoid detection, since the set is disorganised and in a messy state.  
I wrote the chapters first, then drew from how I imagined it. 

A Night Alone - © Ellie Morris

 I'm pretty pleased with how my design for Maxime came out, as it is happily just as I imagined him to look. I usually struggle to draw men/boys a lot, so the facial features on Leo and Dalle might not be the best, but I had fun with designing them, too. The more I dislike Dalle, the more wrinkles I add to his face!
Drawing out characters and scenes is a good way to build on ideas, from my experience. It helps to imagine the angles and where everything is situated, as well as mood, expressions, body language, and colours. I'm a very visual person, so it works for me!

In the second image, poor Maxime is collapsing on his hotel room bed after a long first day at work. He'd been awfully nervous and excited all day, so his tiredness caught up with him, and the poor boy has the flu, to boot! His parents and sister could not make it to Paris with him for his first day at the film studio, so he had to go alone, and dreaded staying in a faraway city at night, all alone.
I just want to give him a big hug - and I know my friend that has been reading the chapters so far, does too.

I'll update with more illustrations as I finish them, as I have quite a few planned.


Monday, 9 April 2018

Fashion and Fiction: Dressing Your Characters

Here's a confession: I sometimes go a bit overboard when writing about clothes/costumes in my books. Loving historical costume (or just dressing up in general, heh) is a passion that really puts its mark on my characters.
For example, Aika from When the Summer Ends is considered odd because she loves dressing in clothes from other eras, even just to potter around in her garden. She is a lonely, quite isolated character that doesn't fit in much anywhere, whether it is America or France, with her mother or father, or at school... I thought the fact that she wears unusual clothes in everyday life would be a way to illustrate how alienated from people and places she feels, as though she longs for the past, which she views through rose-tinted glasses, and nostalgic fantasy.
In my latest story, Maxime is an actor. He loves wearing costumes, as it is a perfect way for him to get into character; to be forced to move, sit, and have the posture of his protagonist, and to feel the fabrics and tactile sensations that the character he plays would have felt in the days before polyester and synthetic fabrics.

With the arrival of a new dress for my BJD version of Aika, how she relates to the clothes she wears must have been playing on my mind, so I turned some simple photos into a story of sorts, using original text from my novel, When the Summer Ends. I hope you enjoy reading as much as I enjoyed making them!

Aika's Wardrobe I - © Ellie Morris

Aika's Wardrobe II - © Ellie Morris

Aika's Wardrobe III - © Ellie Morris

Aika's Wardrobe IV - © Ellie Morris

Aika's Wardrobe V - © Ellie Morris

In my story, Aika wears historical-inspired fashions that she either commissions or makes; she has a strong love for 18th and 19th Century fashions! But she also has a wardrobe of stylish but modest late-1950's-early-1960's clothes, to befit her family and lifestyle. Some people say that she dresses very eccentrically.
On an unrelated note, I thought it was kind of funny how Aika and Maxime's stories are different, but still contain similar elements. Aika was born eight years before Max, but I wonder if they would like each other, should their paths cross. (It wouldn't happen, but it's interesting to think about).

Clothing, although sometimes it can be very discrete, does have a way of expressing things about the wearer. I'm not exactly talking about how wearing ripped skinny jeans makes one a slob or a punk or whatever, but that it can show things that words and actions may not.
Whether it is intentionally or not, the way a character dresses can express any of the following:

If a character is confident, they may wear somewhat more revealing, or even wacky clothing -- especially if that confidence is also based around their appearance.
An example that springs to mind is Vince Noir, from the TV series "The Mighty Boosh", since I watched it recently. Part of his personality is focused around his almost constant sunny disposition and laid-back attitude. But he is also very intent on following and being ahead of the current trends, jumping from one sub-culture to the next, whether it be mod, goth, punk, or something else. Therefore, he isn't afraid to express himself through clothing that is outlandish and unusual - and also very form-fitting on occasion - due to his relaxed and confident personality.
On the other hand, a more shy character may wear something subdued and modest in order to not draw attention to themselves; but alternately, they could also wear something more alternative and fitting to their aesthetics to give themselves a boost of confidence! It's all up to your character and circumstance.

When you are feeling unhappy, do you decide to wear dark colours when you get dressed that day? Sometimes I do, as sporting an obnoxious shade of pink when I'm feeling down can irritate me; I don't feel pretty on the inside, so why should I bother on the outside? I've also heard some people say that intentionally putting on colourful clothes when in a dark mood is a way of trying to boost their spirits.
Wearing black when in a dark mood, or when you want to be invisible, can also be accidental. If your character is going through some hard times, maybe the first thing they throw on is a black T-shirt, or a change of pyjamas, without even thinking of the reasons why. 

Maybe they don't even want to change their clothes, if they are deeply depressed. An example of that which I will always remember is in Stephen King's "Misery", where his character Annie Wilkes suffered from painful mood swings; in her happier moods she would wear pretty but still practical clothes with light colours, but when she became severely depressed and angry, Paul Sheldon noticed that she rarely changed her attire, and that her dressing gown was covered with food stains. 

Is your character a part of any particular scene? Do they express themselves through pins, badges and patches on their clothing, or carry a bag with the logo of their favourite bands/ musicians/football teams? Are they a part of an important cause? - such as human or animal rights, global warming, or a particular charity - which could be a reason to wear T-shirts with slogans relating to those passions.
Very often, I see people that wear merchandise of their hobbies, fandoms, and celebrity crushes. It can frequently be the first thing people notice about them, and a way to strike up conversation with like-minded people. In high school, the girls in my form often knew who was 'Team Edward' and who was 'Team Jacob' just through giving a quick glance to their backpacks, coats, jumpers or stationary (for the record, I was neither, and would always answer "Team Voldemort" as a joke when asked who I supported!).
Interests can also be shown through makeup, accessories, body modifications, and certain haircuts. Somebody may wear earrings of their favourite animal, or shave certain designs into their hair, if their hair is short.

There is a time and a place for everything, and sometimes dress codes are important. If clothing for a formal occasion is warranted, a character may have to dress themselves accordingly, whether it is for a wedding, funeral, a Sunday service in church, or a particularly grueling meeting with a loathsome individual like a strict relative, an ex that they are wanting to outdo, or an enemy that needs taking down a peg or two. 
Would your character worry endlessly over what to wear to an impromptu date or night out? Perhaps the situation has taken them by surprise, and they have no idea what would be suitable to wear. Or maybe they are a rebel and just don't care about convention! 

Religious beliefs can often be expressed through attire such as jewellery or ceremonial clothes and headwear. Sometimes you can even spot or guess which organisation a person belongs to through the type of pendant they wear, or which saint or idol they look up to.
Another idea I thought of was inspired by some people I used to know at college and online, who wore eco-friendly clothing made of hemp or recycled fabrics, or wore vintage to avoid fast-fashion and preserve heritage. These clothes are also influenced by beliefs about society, the environment, and how things are produced in the modern age.

I can easily tell when a film, novel, or photograph was set or produced, simply based on the clothing that characters wear. Fashion is very transitional, and varies wildly, even just in the past fifteen years. The 20th Century is a very good example, as so much changed in those 100 years!
Hemlines rose and fell dramatically (think of how showing legs was considered scandalous in the years before the 1920's, and how women of the 20's embraced shorter dresses that enabled new dances and trends; the Mini skirt of the 1960's, and then the outrage in the 1970's when the Maxi skirt came into fashion).
Casual wear such as jeans, and trousers for women became gradually more acceptable in those decades. Fabrics also went through big transformations in 20th Century, with synthetics and rationing contributing to different trends over the years. The colours and patterns of clothing is also a good way to show what era something is set in (and ditto for home interiors, too).

If your character lives in a really hot country, it is likely that they will dress in a way that enables them to stay cool - and vice versa. Does their location have a specialty for a certain type of fabric, such as tartan wool, silk, or cotton, which is easier to wear since it is local (I think this applies more to historical novels than ones set in the modern day)? Do they have events where they wear national costume? Do they take pride in their country by wearing patriotic gear? Do they own a T-shirt from a country that they visited?

All of these can show a reader things about a character, without having to tell them directly.

It will be interesting to hear what readers think, so please leave a comment on what you or your characters like to wear, and if you have a reason for it!
And why not give some short (or long) descriptions of your character's sense of style a try, if you haven't written about that kind of thing before? It could possibly add a subtle hint of symbolism to your story!

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