Being “In Costume” Every Day: A Writer’s Halloween Treat for the Whole Year

Halloween is my favorite holiday without a doubt. Aside from the general feel-good vibes associated with Halloween, I love that it’s an excuse for me, an adult woman, to play dress up. Every year, I pick a costume (sometimes, two or three) and go all out. I’ve been everything from a zombie 80s homecoming queen to Lara Croft. The one rule—don’t skimp—really dress the part as authentically as possible.

Now, how does this have anything to do with writing?

In writing classes, I always heard about audience and purpose, but what I rarely heard about was role. I never thought about who I wanted to be as a writer. Sometimes, I didn’t even consider myself a writer. This had a clear impact on the way I presented my ideas.

When I started to think about who I wanted to be, or what costume I wanted to wear, it changed how I constructed my ideas, what I felt authorized to write about, and what word choices I made.

Picking a Costume

Of course, as a writer, every choice you make has an impact on the delivery of your ideas. Picking the right costume can help you to make an impact, add to your credibility, and sometimes, even make you more creative.

Here are some basic tricks to help you think about which role is the right one to play.

Thinking About the Occasion

This Edgar Allan Poe costume would be perfect if you were coming into the CWE

You wouldn’t wear a “sexy kitten” costume to teach an elementary school classroom or one of the many fraternity-party-inspired get-ups to a professional networking Halloween event. You likely wouldn’t wear a heavily layered costume if you were going out dancing, just like you wouldn’t wear a costume that left lots of skin exposed if you were to go trick o’ treating in one of the U.S.’s colder regions– He-man probably isn’t the best choice if you’re going door to door in Alaska.

Think about what’s appropriate for the audience, but also what will make the biggest impact. If you’re going to a kid’s party and you want impress the little guys, maybe you pick one of their favorite cartoon characters, something relevant. If you’re going to a school event, maybe you pick a costume that has to do with something discussed in class to wow your teacher, something that’s recognizable.

There are lots of options, and you can feel free to try on many until you figure out the right one.

Avoiding Store-Bought Costumes

While it’s easy and quicker to buy prepackaged ideas, writers usually call these “clichés.” They often detract from your delivery because it seems that you haven’t given much thought to what you’re saying. A reader may think you have just borrowed the language of the role and copied it, without really making it your own.

Of course, any  costume will require some symbolic recognizable features—you can’t be a police officer without a badge– but adding your own style makes it stand out. In writing, this means, you will need to follow some common features and use certain vocabulary depending on the subject and discipline, but you can tweak the packaging to make it stylistically unique.

Doing More than Bunny Ears

VS.

When you pick that perfect role—authority figure, future scientist, novice, explorer, whatever—don’t do it half-heartedly. Don’t be that person who sticks on a pair of bunny ears and calls it a costume. The lack of effort is obvious and undermines your credibility. On the flipside, when you demonstrate to your readers that you’ve put quite a bit of effort and thought into your writing, you can really win them over. If you choose to the role of the expert, dress up your writing with careful research. If you’re wearing the costume of your discipline, make use of jargon and the style typical of your field. Maintain this approach throughout your writing. Don’t just come in with a strong introduction, and then rush through the rest. Be the best [insert role here] you can be!

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