One of the things I was asked about during yesterday’s “webinar” (on-line seminar) was certain pitfalls to avoid when writing fiction.
One of the pitfalls we discussed was to avoid burdening the reader with information that he doesn’t need. In most cases, that will include whatever clothing the character in a scene happens to be wearing.
There are times when you will want to describe that clothing: like, when it sheds some light on the character’s character, or when it has a bearing on the plot. Examples: 98-pound Willie Weasel wears a “Death Before Dishonor” biker’s T-shirt, even though he doesn’t have a motorcycle and faints if he nicks himself shaving. That such a man wears such a T-shirt tells you something about his character. Or, Cadence Cabong habitually wears really pointy high heels, which leads to her falling off the ladder she must climb.
In most cases, though, you don’t have to tell the reader what everybody’s wearing in a given scene. The reader’s own imagination will clothe them while you get on with the story. Unless you tell him otherwise, the reader will not assume your characters are all members of a nudist colony.
Shirley Jackson (The Haunting of Hill House, The Lottery, and other famous works) once advised aspiring writers not to bother describing to their readers the wrist watch that each character was wearing. If you do that, she warned, the reader will begin to suspect that the writer is “queer for wrist watches.”
It takes skill and experience to decide correctly how much detail to give the reader at any juncture of the story. Don’t look for a lot of complicated ways to describe exactly how a character changes a light bulb. “She changed the light bulb” will suffice. You’d be amazed by how much detail you can leave out because the reader will supply it out of his own imagination.
Just don’t leave out too much.