What are your characters wearing? It matters!

I don’t know about you, but as a kid I loved playing dress-ups. I was always parading around in the weirdest combos. Sometimes I wanted to look like Jeanie in I Dream of Jeanie. Another time I remember trying to look like a crone. I put talcum powder in my hair, donned some wire spectacles, draped myself in a black shawl and went to visit my friend. Just to see how effective the disguise was…

I had an old wedding dress too. I got loads of mileage out of that old thing. And yes, I spent an afternoon wearing a cardboard box, trying to look like a Dalek.

Peeps in my sketchbook…

When it comes to writing stories for kids I’m always thinking about what my characters are wearing. It gives me insight into their personalities and quirks.

We have loads of fun deciding on Tan Callahan’s wardrobe. I do tons of online research, downloading  pics from here and there, going down endless rabbit holes. I also ‘spy’ on kids Tan’s age (Tan would  love that!) and if I see a particularly quirky combo I scribble it down in my  notebook.

When I’ve gathered all my online pics, I make a desktop folder for each of the sisters, Tan, Rose, Emerald and Amber and refer to it as I’m writing. I collect images for secondary and minor characters, too.


When each manuscript is finished, I combine all the relevant pics and make a final folder. I send that folder to Lisa (my publisher at HarperCollins) and Claire Robertson (my illustrator at Loobylu). From there it’s up to Lisa and Claire to come up with the final outfit for the cover.

I look at everything from fabrics to shoes to sweet little felt brooches on Etsy.

Truly Tan: Spooked! That’s an Etsy brooch. 😉

We like Tan to be wearing an animal motif somewhere on each of the covers (she adores animals). In book one, Truly Tan, it was a cat hairclip. In book two, Truly Tan:Jinxed!, she wears a funky owl t-shirt. In book three, Truly Tan: Spooked!, she’s wearing a hedgehog brooch. And so on.

Truly Tan. Book one and Tan is dressed for action!

If you look closely you can see that Claire scans real fabrics into the illustrations. It’s a mysterious process and I’m in awe. I would even go so far as to say there’s magic involved. I’m sorry I can’t explain it further. My computer skills begin and end with Word.

I guess that’s okay. For a writer. 😉

Think about what your characters are wearing, how they present themselves to the world. It will definitely help you get to know them better.

And remember, we’re never to old to play dress-ups— even if it’s only on the page.


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10 Replies to “What are your characters wearing? It matters!”

  1. I love this post Jen. You inspired me to start my own Pinterest board for the novel I’m working on. And you are right saying that picking the right clothing for your characters is important. It makes them identifiable. My daughter and I attend conventions like Armageddon. And yes we cosplay (dress up)-and everyone knows who we are by what we wear. So it is mega important to nail the clothing your character wears. Thanks Jen.

    1. Oh, I LOVE those convention thingies, Megan! I remember running into a heap of cosplay people in a bookshop in Sydney last year. I was beside myself with excitement. I had my photo taken with Dr Who and Snow White. Like, really! Lol

  2. I love this idea. I’ve written down how I’d like them to look, what they’d wear but to find images would be so much fun and not procrastination – research! Not sure I’d do Pinterest like Megan as I have no idea how to do that but a folder of images I can do!

    1. Isn’t it brilliant when research is seemingly so superficial, Kerry? Fun! I keep physical folders, too, with clippings from magazines and catalogues.

  3. so great! and I might need those cute shoes…. love your sketches and your way of fully realizing a character 🙂 dress up, always a favorite, even now! thanks for another great post! You rock!

  4. Great post Jen. I’d never noticed the animal details on Tan’s clothes before, but I love how they add to her character and personality.

    1. Thanks, Caz! For me it’s always the little things that bring characters to life . They help me get a better sense of who it is I’m writing about.

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