Wednesday, September 28, 2011

VP4W 4 Dresses the Part

The Virgin's Promise for Writers

Thanks to the industrial revolution, which started in textiles and put us on a course to cheap and abundant clothing, we moderns have a weak appreciation of the power of dress. From days playing dress up as children to actors who become the character as they put on their costume and make up, what we wear and how we adorn ourselves has had the power to transform us from naked apes into, say, an officer or lady of the court.

Kim Hudson*calls the fourth beat of the Virgin's Promise, Dresses the Part:
"Dresses the Part provides the viewer with a fun and pleasurable sense that perhaps dreams can come true and life is meant to have joy in it. But it is not a frivolous event. ... Before the Virgin can consciously relate to the invisible energy of her authentic self, that energy has to be transformed into something tangible."
As a sartorially-challenged American (who, unfortunately are not covered under the Americans with Disabilities Act), I confess that it took me some time to warm to Hudson's label for what is basically an exploratory phase. Having awakened to the possibility of something more in the Opportunity to Shine, the Virgin now tries on the role, sometimes literally.

Clothing, because it is such an integral and intimate part of our experience, is potent on both practical and symbolic levels. It can be an enabler or an impediment; it can empower or constrict. So both dressing and undressing can be the prelude to exploration.

Of course, this talk of clothing doesn't preclude stories where the enabler is some other object, situation, or concept. The key (sometimes an actual key) is that the Virgin now has the opportunity to explore her dream in a safe, non-threatening context.

In the visual vocabulary of film, this beat is often shown as a kind of fashion show montage. Hudson says, "The fashion show is a metaphor for the Virgin's ability to experiment with who she really is until she finds the right fit."

A consequence of Dressing the Part is that the Virgin becomes beautiful--perhaps not all at once, or not in ways that are immediately apparent, but in ways that reflect her internal transformation.
"... true beauty is seen when the soul of a person is reflected in their physical appearance. ... the Virgin's beauty is often described in terms of light such as shining, glowing, brilliant, dazzling, and iridescent. In other words, the Virgin's beauty represents the shining forth of her soul."
Stories often highlight this transformation by showing the Virgin as something of an ugly duckling at the beginning.

It's important to remember that the beauty we're discussing here has nothing to do with the community's definitions or expectations about beauty. This is not the sculpted and manicured beauty of a fashion model, but the natural beauty of a person full of life and vitality.

Dressing the Part for writers has little to do with actual clothing (unless I missed the memo on author uniforms). Nor do we need special equipment--purchasing a computer is far less significant because of its multiple uses than buying a typewriter. But we do need to explore both subjects and disciplines to find the right fit.

Trying different subjects, and by extension, addressing different audiences is the writing analogue of the fashion show. What kind of stories do you enjoy? What kind of writing fires your passion? To which of your pieces do people respond most strongly?

Writing discipline is the less glamorous but ultimately more important aspect of Dressing the Part for writers. Questions like when to write and weather to have music in the background are symptoms of a deeper, primal fear: can I really do this, not just today but for the long run? The only way to really know you can sustain the effort over an entire career is to sustain the effort over an entire career. All authors, even the most successful, wonder if they can keep it up; if the next book will be as successful as the last; if people still want to listen. That said, by Dressing the Part (i.e., treating your writing like a profession) you can learn a great deal about how realistic your dream may be and, more importantly, how well it fits your soul and brings out your inner beauty.

* Kim Hudson, The Virgin's Promise

Image: Simon Howden /

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