Some actors put on a costume to get into character and children play dress up to explore being all sorts of people—from fairy tales princesses to sturdy adventurers. I have a photo of myself pretending to be a mountain climber. I took a baby doll sized stroller and strapped the frame around my shoulders. My teddy bear peeks out from inside the jerry-rigged backpack, and I’m holding a jump rope. I was about four and mountaineering in the living room!
I’m sure that some writers dress to get into the right mood to write about a particular character. I’ve yet to try it, but the idea is cool. Need to feel like Sherlock Holmes—put on a deerstalker hat. Getting inside the head of a femme fatale—try stiletto heels. So much of what brings a character to life is vested in their appearance. In real life, appearance attracts and rejects, explains and confuses, and, in general, makes people crazy.
As human animals we invest positive traits in those we find attractive and negative in those we deem unattractive, and yet experience teaches us that kindness, intelligence, generosity, altruism, the capacity to experience and share joy, and everything that is actually GOOD is not present solely in those with beautiful OUTSIDES.
Still, we get a great deal of specific information from appearance and writers use those descriptions to connect with readers. Describe a character as slovenly and their disheveled appearance indicates to the reader that they are likely to be sloppy and careless in other aspects of their life. Perhaps the stains on a sweater will become clues necessary for the solution of a mystery? But it’s also likely that the reader will get the message that this messy character leads a messy life. The character could be unreliable as well as untidy?
Appearance can illustrate what’s going on inside the character and it can also be a disguise—the pretty, sugar coating hiding a heinous personality. To write about that character, I might have to get myself a deerstalker!