April 27, 2013 by Kira Lyn Blue
Never underestimate the importance of accessorizing. Hey fellas, don’t run yet. We’re not talking jewelry here, we’re talking about making memorable characters.
Let’s try an experiment. I’ll give you some signature accessories, you just try NOT to know who I’m talking about.
- Wand and round glasses
- Pipe and deerstalker hat
- Towel and bathrobe
- Sting and ring
- Bowtie and blue box
OK, since it’s Saturday and no one can expect to have all brain cells fully engaged on the weekend, I’ll give you the answers:
I think with these five examples alone, I can make a powerful argument for the importance of appropriately accessorizing our characters. As you can see, some things become so iconic that they’re immediately recognizable. I mean, hell, I could show up at a Halloween party wearing my hideous pink fuzzy robe and carrying any towel from my linen closet and have my “costume” be fairly recognizable to sci-fi fans.
Now, before anyone rushes off to plop giant purple pimp hats on their characters just to make them stand out, let’s talk a bit about the importance of the right accessories.
Really awesome, really iconic accessories tell us something about the character. They’re symbols.
These accessories tell us about the character’s personality, motives, or something important about their history. Rather than go through a ton of examples, let’s just take Doctor Who into consideration. While the Tardis and, in later seasons, the sonic screwdriver are iconic accessories for every Doctor, each incarnation has his own personalized accessories.
Christopher Eccleston, the ninth Doctor, has his short, black leather jacket. This is a fitting accessory for him because in this incarnation he has a bit of the bad-boy persona. At least compared to the other Doctors. He’s more aggressive and has a temper.
David Tennant, the tenth Doctor, has his Converse sneakers and ankle length coat. These accessories help us shift to a gentler, geekier, fun-loving Doctor.
Matt Smith, the eleventh Doctor, has his bowtie and suspenders. Now we’re to what I like to call the Doctor’s mad-scientist phase. Matt Smith’s clothing always reminds me of a tweed-wearing ivory tower academic. But, there’s something off about the Doctor, almost as if he can’t quite determine who he is in this incarnation. He skips around from bowties, to fezzes, to stetson hats declaring each to be cool so vehemently that I wonder who he’s trying to convince: Amy, the audience, or himself.
Are you getting the picture here?
Because the picture these accessories paint is the entire point. Some authors will describe their characters in lovingly crafted detail, some authors will only give us only the sketchiest of descriptions preferring to let the reader flesh the character out in their own mind. I have loved characters from books presented both ways.
The ones that really stick in my mind also have signature accessories. Something they wear or carry that permanently marks that character. An anchor that latches that character into my subconscious mind and remains long after I’ve finished a book.
As I was preparing to write this post, I was amazed at how easy it was to grab some of these anchors and pull characters from my memory. Here are a few of my other faves:
- Jane Yellowrock- from the series by Faith Hunter has her vamp stakes that double as hair accessories and her bike, Bitsa.
- Malcolm Reynolds- from Firefly has his brown coat.
- Rachel Morgan- from the series by Kim Harrison has her splat gun and charms.
- Stefan Uccello-a vampire from the Meredes Thompson series by Patricia Briggs has his van that is customized to look like the Mystery Machine. I really like this example because Stefan isn’t really a main character, but he sticks out in my mind just because of his van.
- Anita Blake- from the series by Laurell K. Hamilton has her stuffed penguins and snarky coffee mugs.
- Mitchell- the vampire from Being Human (UK version) is always wearing fingerless gloves.
- Wolverine- from the X-Men has his cigar.
If you’re familiar with these characters, think about what these accessories tell us about them.
Now think about the characters you write and how you could accessorize them. The main character, Jac, from my book Murphy’s First Law carries a messenger bag everywhere. Now this isn’t just a convenient conveyance for her side-kick Oliver, the talking squirrel. The bag (and its contents) show her need to be prepared and it’s also a symbol of the emotional baggage she carries.