Saturday, January 30, 2021

How (and Why!) to Dress Your Characters

As your characters wend their way through their novel, bravely facing the obstacles you throw at them, you may ask yourself - what should they wear? And does it really matter?

Well, yes, it does. And here's why. You can pack a ton of information into your characters' wardrobe, from backstory to mood to carefully placed plots elements. Plus, in real life, people wear clothes. Don't neglect this important part of setting and characterization.

Setting, you may ask? How in the world can clothes influence the setting of a book? J. K. Rowling's Harry Potter series is an excellent example of this. Without the wizard robes and pointed hats, Hogwarts would be a very different place indeed. 

Uniforms with Purpose

Uniforms serve several functions in story writing. They provide the reader immediate clues about what type of story and world they've entered. A book packed with characters in army clothes will be quite different from one featuring ball gowns.

Uniforms can create unity among characters and highlight differences between groups. This is also clear in the Harry Potter books where Muggles dress very much like you and I but wizards cannot seem to figure out the intricacies of normal Muggle attire. Rowling also uses the standard wizarding world uniform to accentuate the times Harry and the other characters are away from the magical setting. 

Uniforms can also provide simplicity for both the reader and the writer, who won't need to rack their brains for distinctive, character-consistent outfits. Instead, small differences between similarly dressed characters can reveal their traits and mood. A rumpled outfit vs. a sleek, well-maintained one. 

Again in Harry Potter, Lupin's shabby robes reveal a great deal about his backstory, while Professor Lockhart's garish ones accentuate his narcissism. Ron Weasley's ancient dress robes contrast with Harry's new ones, highlighting Ron's poverty and providing an opportunity to show how each boy feels about it. Even Parvati Patil's butterfly hair clip - not the standard dress code - gives us information about who she is in contrast to those around her.

Dressing for the Weather

Casting characters in big bulky coats versus shorts or swimsuits establishes the type of weather and climate they are in. If they are missing a much-needed coat or sunhat, that creates potential problems for the character to work through. Similarly, when a character chooses a bright yellow raincoat, are they shaking their fist at mother nature, expressing a need for attention, or simply choosing from their limited options? The clothing begs the question. As the author, you decide how much to answer.

When dressing your character, consider how the weather changes throughout the day in your setting. Consider changes across weeks or months and adapt your characters' wardrobes accordingly. 

Clothing Sets the Mood

Perhaps you've heard the phrase, "Let me slip into something more comfortable," often given with a wink and a sly grin. There's no doubt that clothes set the mood for a given situation. Clothing choices often indicate characters' hopes or their anticipation of how the day may progress. They can also reflect characters' moods or their attempts to disguise how they really feel. Clothing can indicate the general mood of a place, like the gray clothes often featured in stories about orphanages.

Time and Fashion

Here's a few examples:
The Chronicles of Narnia by C. S. Lewis features girls wearing dresses, typical of 1940s England.

Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card features characters wearing futuristic battle gear.

The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan dresses its characters in modern clothes.

Clothing Reveals Character

We've all heard it before, you can't judge a book by it's cover. This is meant to prevent hasty, ill-informed opinion making. However, as an author, you can use clothing to reveal a lot about your character. Or lack of clothing - consider The Emperor's New Clothes. 

Cassandra Clare, author of The Mortal Instruments series and its many spinoffs, uses fashion to great effect. Her descriptions of clothing and accessories is so seamlessly woven into the story (pun intended!)
that it doesn't slow the momentum. Instead, it becomes part of what the reader looks forward to enjoying. In the list below, note the contrasting traits that are revealed by the clothing of each character.
Isabel - long dresses, tight clothes, high heels, and an electrum whip wound around her arm
Clary - jeans and tennis shoes, T-shirts or tank tops, a backpack
Alec - dark clothes, including old sweaters
Magnus - flashy clothes with sequins, leather, and plenty of glitter

Whatever your story, put some thought and effort into dressing your characters. Your readers will thank you!

Monday, January 18, 2021

Amari and the Night Brothers Review

When Amari gets kicked out of school for fighting with a kid who teased her about her missing brother, her mom has no idea what she will do for Amari's education. While Quinton’s disappearance is mysterious, most people think he got involved in something illegal and is probably long dead. Amari knows her brother was too smart to do anything like that but no one believes her. Until a magical briefcase shows up and has a message for Amari, from her brother.


The cryptic message leads her to the Bureau of Supernatural Affairs, a secret organization that trained Quinton and hired him to investigate supernatural happenings including chasing down evil magicians. Amari is eager to join the Bureau with the sole purpose of using her time to investigate her brother's disappearance and find him. But when her initial evaluation yields an unexpected result, she is thrust into another situation that makes her painfully aware of how hard it is to be different, and from a background that isn't appreciated. Amari struggles to prove herself, so she can continue to look for clues to save Quinton while navigating an unknown environment with an evil magician bent on punishing the supernatural world. But if she can't solve the mystery of Quinton's disappearance before her training runs out, she'll be back home with her memory erased and no closer to rescuing her brother.


Amari and the Night Brothers contains a magical and imaginative world with a wonderfully diverse cast that you want to dive right into and never stop turning pages. Amari is a strong main character who has been brought up in a world where the system is stacked against her. She is painfully aware of the hurdles in front of her because she is poor and black. Despite the constant roadblocks, Amari rises to the occasion and even when she wants to quit she reminds herself what her brother would do in that situation. She continues to push ahead even when tempted by a seemingly easy road that would sacrifice her internal moral compass and lead to terrible path. Ultimately nothing stops her from standing up for what she believes in. And it’s wrapped up in a story filled with surprises and intrigue at every step along the journey. The themes are so beautifully woven into the adventure and mystery and the story demonstrates the importance of having role models and allies along the way.


This is the first book I’ve read in a while that was hard to put down. I can’t think of anything that I didn’t like about the story other than it ended far too soon. Amari and the Night Brothers is the next big thing. It will be a HUGE series for young and not-so-young readers alike. Make sure you get your hands on it ASAP, because everyone will be talking about this book. I can’t believe I have to wait a whole year for the next installment because I’m ready to dive into this world all over again.



B. B. Alston started writing in middle school, entertaining his classmates with horror stories starring the whole class where not everyone survived! After several years of trying to break into publishing, he had just been accepted into a biomedical graduate program when a chance entry into a twitter pitch contest led to his signing with TBA, 20+ book deals worldwide, and even a film deal. When not writing, he can be found eating too many sweets and exploring country roads to see where they lead.


B. B. was inspired to write AMARI AND THE NIGHT BROTHERS because he couldn’t find any fantasy stories featuring Black kids when he was growing up. He hopes to show kids that though you might look different, or feel different, whatever the reason, your uniqueness needn’t only be a source of fear and insecurity. There is great strength and joy to be found in simply accepting yourself for who you are. Because once you do so, you’ll be unstoppable.