You know me, I love a 'Behind the Scenes' look at things, I'm still the only person keeping the DVD industry afloat with my need to view the behind the scenes features on every romcom known to man, so when the author of 'She Just Can't Help Herself' Ollie Quain offered to let us in on what it's like writing a book about fashion I jumped at the chance.
I honestly think this is my favourite 'guest' piece that I have ever featured on my blog. After reading this article from Ollie I sort of wish she could be the official columnist for Is This Real Life, I feel she is the 'Fashion Fairy Godmother' we have all been missing in our lives. I really love what Ollie wrote and laughed out loud at so many parts, the trilby comment got me the most, so true guys, so true!
I really hope you enjoy the piece and remember to check out Ollie's book if you haven't already....
FASHION IN FICTION
By Ollie Quain
A long time ago, I wrote almost an entire novel set on a fashion magazine. It was about an awkward intern who gets bullied by her high maintenance editor. Just as I was thinking how marvellously it was coming along, The Devil Wears Prada was released; the best title ev-aaaaah in women's fiction with a similar basic plot. It was an instant hit. So I dumped my uncompleted book to the file marked KILL ME NOW... I'VE WRITTEN 123,000 WORDS. I stumbled across it last year. There it was; Zip It!. (This was the actual working title. CRINGE!) I thanked God/the ghost of Gianni Versace, I hadn't pitched it to anyone. It was not marvellous. It was the literary equivalent of a trilby hat ie.night or day in any season always looks like you're trying too hard. However, reading it again taught me some basic rules for my current fashion based novel, She Just Can't Help Herself...
RULE NUMBER ONE
Be edgy but don't go over the precipice.
Assuming your novel is aimed at a commercial audience make sure the majority of fashionistas or labels you name-check are not too niche, otherwise you will jar the flow. As a reader, pausing to Google once a chapter is not irritating. Asking Siri something every paragraph, is. And besides...
RULE NUMBER TWO
...it's not about you.
Over littering the text with your knowledge will make your voice louder than the narrative voice. Every word you write has to be on the page for a reason ie. to accentuate character or establish location... which in turn develops plot. In my first attempt, you can hear me trying/failing to convince the reader how jolly cool I am. Ego has no place in novel writing. If you want to write purely to show off, then start a blog...haha. JUST KIDDING, EMMA!
RULE NUMBER THREE
Remove one accessory before leaving the house.
It's never a good idea to throw erry-thang at a “look”. (When I first moved to Ibiza it was often a chunky boho-esque bangle; think Sienna Miller - The Jude Years, that got flung.) Apply this theory to your writing. Know when to stop. Yes, your novel involves fashion but don't batter the reader with constant descriptions of outfits. Oh, and remember that (bar Stella McCartney) a fashionista rarely wears one designer from head to toe, unless they are sitting on the FROW at the label's show.
RULE NUMBER FOUR
Aim for a macro audience but do not fudge the micro facts.
SJCHH is written as if it were “of today” which admittedly is easier than writing about a specific period in fashion. Always research as if your reader is better informed on your subject than you are. a.) Because it is a matter of respect. And b.) Because if the details are not in sync, someone who is better informed will pounce upon each style reference and expose you on insert-mega-important-review-portal-here as a fraud or worse, lazy. Ultimately, there is...
RULE NUMBER FIVE
...no beauty without pain.
When researching, always check and double check the minor details, then after the copy editor has checked – you should triple check. EACH WORD. AGAIN. If this sounds like a lot of hard, painful graft, it is. But remember you are creating haute couture, sweedie... not prêt-à-porter.
RULE NUMBER SIX
Avoid the obvious.
In Zip It! (DOUBLE CRINGE!) my heroine was obsessed with Manolo Blahnik heels. I mean, per-lease. Call the originality police! Today's equivalent would probably be Louboutin pumps. You know the ones with a hint of platform (in any colour, but especially beige.) There are a plethora of other designer shoes out there all of which could indicate your lead character has an interest in fashion. And if I was being snarky-to-the-max, I would question whether any edgy fashionista wears that style of Loub, anyway? Actually, I've just thought...
RULE NUMBER SEVEN
...avoid giving your heroine an obsession with shoe wear period or other characteristics which Carrie had in Sex And The City (the series OR the movies). Any reference to her should be laced with irony. Sorry, but she is SO done.
RULE NUMBER EIGHT
Denim is a divider.
Every season, designers attempt to re-invent the denim jean; kick flare, skinny, straight, ankle grazer, high waist, bumster, hipster, boyfriend, distressed, stonewash or - *shudder* - bootcut. (Thank Chriiiiiiiiiist, there was no Insta in 2007 to immortalise the image of me wearing that pair with those neon yellow Cuban heels.) But I've never met a girl who has all of the above in her closet. The majority of women have a clear (and sometimes very damning) opinion of what constitutes a good or bad jean and as such could “turn” on a character simply because of the denim they are clad in.
RULE NUMBER NINE
Keep it real.
The style industry has a reputation for being full of clichéd “characters” but if anyone (including your supporting cast) comes across as one dimensional in your novel, it will kill it. Enter stage left The Anorexic Model, The Camp Catwalk Coach, The Gushy PR Exec, The Sleazy Photographer, The Sullen Stylist... from my first attempt. Of course, these people do exist. (I once met a stylist who never smiled in the workplace because, I quote, “everyone needs to have a thing in fashion, this is mine”). But they all have other layers. Think of each one like a shallot. (Onions are so new millennium.)
RULE NUMBER TEN
Fashion isn't everything.
GASP! Well, it is in life, clearly... but when it comes to your novel, the story should
be more important than the setting. Imagine lifting the lives of the people you have created and the drama surrounding them, then placing it in different world; from competitive fly fishing to an emergency ward; it should still work. Or rather, “werrrrrrrrrrq”.
She Just Can't Help Herself is OUT NOW and you can buy it here from Amazon
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