Try Before You Write: Force and Clothing

So I posted a while back about, among other things, how hard it is to hold onto a small child who doesn’t want to be held. Know what else is hard? Getting them into pants when they don’t want to wear them.

Seriously. Forcibly dressing or undressing someone who’s fighting you is really tough to actually do. I’ve never tried it with an adult, but personal experience tells me that it takes luck, patience, and at least three participating limbs to dress a three year old who really doesn’t want pants on. Two coercing parties is good. Three would probably be better. There will be kicking, scratching, screaming, biting and twisting of Escher Girl magnitude. (hey, you know those impossible Escher Girl poses? Very little kids actually are that flexible. It’s kind of weird to watch sometimes.)

I read this romance novel years ago in which a character was held down and her clothing forcibly removed – not a rape sequence, don’t worry, more of a Stepsisters-Steal-Cinderella’s-Pretty-Dress scenario – and it popped into my head today while I was trying to wrestle pyjama pants onto my kid and I thought “…. dude, that was totally impossible. Either she was actively cooperating or both of those chicks were secretly the She-Hulk.” Tearing someone’s clothes off is likewise tough – unless the character tearing jeans off is an actual werewolf with razor sharp claws and all… no. Just no. Do you have any idea how hard it is to tear a close-woven fabric? Harder than you’d think.

Seams are a weak point, of course. Seams can be popped with relative ease, although again, jeans and such heavy garments are a no unless they’re very old and worn. But if you’re trying to get a pretty party dress off an unwilling participant, neither you, the unwilling participant or the dress are going to be in party shape by the end of it. I don’t even want to think what it’s like trying to get armour off someone who’s resisting – presumably this is why Town Guards and Stormtroopers are always knocked unconscious first.

But undressing someone unconscious is no bed of roses either. If you want to use a clothes-stealing scene of any description, factor in at least half an hour for this. If you don’t believe me, ask a friend or relative to lie limp while you try to lever their clothes off. Someone bigger than you are is probably best. Unless you’ve had a lot of practice – I will assume the best and guess that you’re a nurse or something – it’s going to be really hard and take a while to do.

So if you’re writing a romance of the bodice-rippy variety, or any kind of stealing-a-uniform-off-a-warm-body scenario, or Star Wars fan-fiction or whatever, keep in mind that getting clothes off another human who’s not actually cooperating is a lot tougher than you’d think if you’ve never tried it. (Also, corsets don’t rip. Not the proper boned variety. They’re many layers of fabric thick, heavily reinforced and incredibly sturdy and unless your hero is secretly Superman, he’s going to have to resort to cutting laces or something. Just an FYI)

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