With beads and braids in her hair

Last week my niece, who’s nearly 10, showed up with coloured plastic beads threaded in her short dark hair. She’d strung the beads onto three strands of hair near her brow, and they clicked and jingled and looked really cute and funky.

She offered to thread some into my hair and I will confess it was not entirely my desire to be thought a cool aunt that caused me to acquiesce. I secretly yearned to have beads threaded in my hair too.

We retreated to the bathroom, where she instructed me to lean over the sink so she could wet the selected strands of hair. Since my hair is a little longer than hers, we plaited the strands first and threaded the beads on the ends — purple, pink, red and blue. We fastened them with elastic.

I so wish I’d taken a photo.

So for the next couple of days — until I was forced to wash it — I waltzed around with two tiny plaits and beads in my hair. It made me happy.

You see — and I daresay this will sound weird — but it made me feel more connected with the protagonists of my current WIP, who both wear braids and beads in their hair. Not of course coloured beads made of plastic (theirs are made of copper, clay, stone, leather, bone, wood), but the principle is there.

Not only did it give me a thrill to, er, coin their hairstyle (sort of), but it was handy for a spot of experiential research too.

It’s one thing to conceptualise such things in my head, but actually experimenting with them, no matter how peripherally, gives me far better insight. I can figure out things like: how hair behaves when you plait it, whether it needs to be wet, how long it takes, how many beads look good, how hard it is to thread the beads on, whether you can braid and bead your own hair . . . and so on.

These are the tiny cultural details I love having in fantasy. They help bring imaginary worlds to life, and it’s one of the things I try to focus on when I’m writing.

Anyway, my braids and beads experience is my inspiration of the week. Do you think we’re ever too old to wear plastic beads in our hair? Writers — have you ever employed tactics to feel closer to your characters?

 

21 comments

  1. I wish you’d taken a photo, too!! I’ve tried a couple things to get into my character’s head, but the most ambitious hasn’t happened yet. Am thinking of buying a corset as research for a historical I want to write. We’ll see…

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    1. Do it! I know an author (Alison Goodman) who has invested in an entire Regency wardrobe to research her latest novel, which I think is regency paranormal mystery… She loves it!

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  2. What fun, both for the aunt/niece relationship and research. Closest I’ve come to living vicariously through my characters is dressing my avatar in 60’s wardrobe. I need to get out more. LOL

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  3. How cool for both you and your niece to do that together. Love the research twist on your experience, too. Since my most recent story is a contemporary novel about two teens, I don’t know how I might get in character beyond looking at photos of myself at that time and remembering more of what it was like to be a teen.

    The next novel I’ve started working on is set in the early 1900’s in New Orleans. I might have to get some new garb for the disguise closet from that era. For research, of course. πŸ™‚

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  4. I’m sure all of us wish you’d taken a photo too…you should reconstruct this event at your earliest convenience πŸ˜‰

    And no…we’re never too old to wear plastic beads in our hair, especially if it makes somebody happy…double especially if that someone is a kid πŸ™‚

    I’ve sometimes thought about taking some kung fu classes because the characters in my eastern fantasy novel use martial arts and stuff. But it’s cheaper just to watch Chinese films, which can be awesome.

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    1. I’ll see what I can do re the reconstruction. πŸ˜‰

      I’ve often thought about taking some form of martial art classes too — I’m sure nothing can compare with experiencing the thud of making contact with someone, or how much exertion is required, or balance, or… I’d think even a few classes would help immeasurably! It’s on my list of stuff to do someday. (I have already tried fencing and archery, although the latter only once.)

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      1. Yeah, that’s been my thinking too–taking some classes to acquire a little bit of authenticity in my writing. Plus it would be great exercise, and I’m sure I could use a little more of that.

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  5. What fun. Whenever I see beaded hair I always think of the movie “Ten.” (Did you find yourself running on the beach flipping your hair around?) Your bonding time with your niece was great.
    Travel is my way to immerse myself in the story when possible. Otherwise just old research. I started to say boring-research but that is not true. I get really immersed in a culture that way. I write about a past lifetime, and the only way is through research because I don’t have access to a wormhole.

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    1. Didn’t really have the Bo Derek look… only had two short thin plaits. But I do love that hair-flipping braided look. (Just not sure I’d have the patience to have it done!)

      Travel is wonderful — I find that stirs my creativity for sure, but it’s rather an expensive and time-consuming option. I so wish I could do more of it.

      Speaking of historical research and the need for wormholes — Connie Willis has written several books where scholars use time travel to research specific periods of history. Wouldn’t that be awesome?

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  6. We are NEVER too old to wear beads and braids in our hair! Plus I totally support experiential research projects such as yours. Writers need to “live” with their characters to bring them to life. You would never know how heavy the beads felt or how they really sounded when you walked if you hadn’t worn them. But I am a little disappointed by the lack of photo πŸ˜‰

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    1. Clearly, to do this properly, I’ll need to create beads made of wood and stone and bone etc, not to mention grow my hair to an appopriate length… Maybe then I’ll take a photo. πŸ˜‰

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