Friday, November 23, 2012

Ye Shall Know Them By Their T-Shirts

By Jeff Reynolds

On a vacation earlier this year, my wife Becky and I stopped at a rest area. As I headed to the restroom, a gentleman walked out wearing a T-Shirt which read, “Sarcasm is another service I provide.”

A second later, it hit me. I need a line on my character profiles listing what T-shirts they have.

After all, the slogan shirts someone has tells something about them. They also can make a first impression. For example, one weekend I was reading at Lazy Daze Coffeehouse when a young girl and her friends came in. Her shirt read, “Cute is what I aim for.” Over it, she wore a sweater with a pattern of alternating roses and poison symbols.

Bumper stickers and posters can be included in that section. In my WIP, my main character leaves his teen-age daughter in the car as he visits a friend at the hospital. When he leaves, he takes a look at an empty car and wondered if the girl ran off. Then, he notices bumper stickers on the car he thinks at his and realizes that definitely isn't his car.

Side note. In this case, I used bumper stickers that the character would not use. The fact that he wouldn't have certain bumper stickers reveal his character just as clearly as one he would have.

I have several T-shirts with sayings on them. Some were given to me when I was a member of the YMCA in Tennessee ages ago, that rarely are worn off my property. A pair were acquired at work. Another four are from political campaigns, two of which were successful and two which weren't. (One of the two was for my former state rep – last year's redistricting gave me both a different state rep and state senator.)

I also have two T-shirts from Voice of the Martyrs. The first has the VOM logo on the front pocket and on the back the eyes of a lion with the words, “It didn't end at the Roman Coliseum. Christians Still Die.” The other's back features Romans 1:16 on the back while the front informs you, “This shirt is illegal in 52 countries” and lets you know how many countries are restricted (where official government policy persecutes believers) and how many are hostile (where the government's not involved but there are attacks on believers by the general population).

T-shirts and posters promoting certain musicians, actors, and movies/concert tours are another means of revealing something about the character. For that matter, so is sports paraphernalia. I remember a story of someone wearing a Pittsburgh Steelers jersey early in '06, after they eliminated the Colts in the playoffs due to a missed field goal attempt. The name on the back of the jersey was Vanderjagt. If that name doesn't ring a bell, he was the Colts' field goal kicker that year.

The sports outfit reflects something about the person. If a character in Indianapolis is wearing a Manning jersey, is that jersey for the Colts, the Broncos, or the New York Giants? If he's wearing a Colts shirt, is the setting Indy, Baltimore, Boston, Nashville, or Beijing? If the name on the back is Tebow, it reflects something about the character regardless of whether the jersey is Broncos or Jets, or for that matter the city the character is in.

Hope my hints are helpful. Sometimes things like T-Shirts and bumper stickers help with developing personality. So does a blog. Today's blog, for example, let's you know that my genre of writing probably isn't historical romance.


  1. I love this idea. :-) I'm going to add them to my character profiles! :-) Thanks for sharing!

  2. You've opened a whole new door of thoughts. Thanks, Jeff.

  3. So much can be said in so few words! Thanks, Jeff, for the T-shirt tips!

  4. Thanks for your comments, Karla, Elaine, and Rachael.


  5. Fabulous idea! Thanks for sharing it! :-)

  6. A look through my t-shirts would definitely reveal a few things about me. I can't own normal t-shirts. If they're not unusual, I don't care for them. Among mine (not counting the foreign places) are these slogans: "Be careful, or I'll write you into my novel," "U.S. Army Air Corps" (which hasn't existed since 1947), "KGB" (in Russian letters, naturally), "TITANIC, crew member." A little history, a little humor.

  7. And thanks for your comments, Dawn and Cara.

    And Rick, those are very interesting T-shirts.