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NaNoWriMo - Settings and Locations: Part One - Buildings

Monday 4th November 2019 – Settings and Locations: Part One - Buildings

A sense of place is imperative in a story.  After all, we all love to belong.  This is the first of three blogs on the theme of Settings and Locations, and this one will be looking at buildings.
This is the trickiest blog I’ve written so far, mostly because this is an enormous topic, and there’s so much to cram into one blog!

Wanderford Hall was an ancient building of stone, lined internally with brightly polished wooden panels. The floor was made of thick wooden boards that had been reclaimed from the destruction of the Catholic church in the village some two hundred years earlier. The entrance hall was overlooked by an enormous painting of the Battle of Bosworth Field, in which his ancestor had fought. Its very presence stood contrary to his father’s puritanical beliefs, but he had been unwilling to paint over it and lose a part of his heritage. The wooden staircase radiated with the shine of beeswax, and it was this smell that Fotherby inhaled as he closed his eyes, transported over the two decades of his life here.
~ from “Beneath Black Clouds and White”
Buildings play a large part of nearly every story.  One of our favourite books at Crowvus HQ is Lucy Boston’s Children of Green Knowe – it’s read every Christmas! – and the house, Green Knowe, is as much a main character as any of the people.  What your characters perceive of a building will have an impact on their emotions, and they’ll probably have preconceived ideas about the people who live in certain houses.

Buildings add something to their landscape.  Whitewashed coastal houses, brick terraces of northern industrial towns, or stone bothies tucked into Highland landscapes.  These all transport readers to, not only a location, but an emotional relationship with those who use or live in these buildings.

And it’s not only the outsides!  What about an open fire in a stone chimney, the flames reflecting from wooden-panelled walls?  Or a white leather sofa camouflaged against a clinical, glossed wall?  Cosy?  Clean?  Cluttered?  There are too many fantastic words which happily describe both buildings and personalities.  It’s not surprising, then, that a building’s ambiance can often impact on our own!

Here are a few things to think about when you write about buildings:

  • Have a look at your time and location – if you are in an area built on granite, it’s unlikely old buildings would be in brick.
  • Think about the different styles of building – we live in a stone house which has walls about two feet deep, but our last house (which was made of brick) had walls half that depth.
  • Both the outward and internal appearance of buildings have an impact on our emotions.  That’s why black castles with tall thin turrets and finials are always used as the bad guy’s lair in films.
  • Buildings can be personified – another great example of this is Mervyn Peake’s Gormenghast series, the castle is viewed as a character in its own right.
  • Buildings give opportunities to people – Write your buildings so the reader can’t help but imagine themselves in front of them, eager to learn what they hold in store for the characters...


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