Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Posted by Laurel Garver on Wednesday, March 16, 2016 4 comments
Photo credit: melschmitz,  morguefile.com
Detective Fredricks completes his investigation of the dining room, then he...

goes through the French doors to examine the patio
or
takes the left exit into the butler's pantry
or
leads the officers back to the main corridor

Wait. Is there a butler's pantry? Which side of the room has French doors? What other rooms lead off this corridor?

Space, the essential frontier


Even if  you don't write mysteries, like in my example above, you likely need to move your characters through space, both architecture and landscape.

Like a director, you may have put a great deal of thought into how to "block" each individual scene in terms of how characters interact with one another.

But do you know how they are interacting with their environment? Further, do you know how your various locations connect? If your image of the protagonist's key environments is fuzzy, chances are you will introduce some pretty significant continuity errors, like having him go upstairs to bed in one scene, and getting breakfast down the hall in another.

The best way to avoid problems like this, and even to increase your productivity, is to map all your locations.

You don't need to be an expert cartographer or an architect to do this. You don't even need to invent places from scratch. You simply need to know how the story's spaces are connected, their approximate shape and size, and any environmental details that will play a role in the story.

In this week's post, I will cover tips on mapping man-made spaces, specifically building architecture. In a future post, I'll discuss mapping larger landscapes.

Architecture


Unless you have a deep understanding of how buildings go together, I'd recommend basing all your floor plans on existing buildings you know, or professionally made plans you can get your hands on. Because there are extremely detailed rules about what shapes hold weight, how plumbing and electricity are added to structures, etc., your amateur plans are likely to be unsafe (or at least improbable) spaces.

There are loads of places to get useful floor plans that show exactly where the dining room is in relation to the butler's pantry and patio. Where windows are located in a building. Which stairways go all the way to the second basement. How many bedrooms there are and which has a closet large enough to hide a corpse in. *wink*

Realtor sites

I found, on a realtor website, a three-bedroom, two-bath floor plan for the apartment building where my character lives. I printed it out, and voila, I never again had to wrack my brain about where the bathrooms were, or which windows faced 93rd Street. This was loads easier than taking a train up to New York, trying to wheedle my way past a doorman, and asking tenants to show me around.

Even if you don't have a specific location in mind, but rather are creating an amalgam of various places, hitting a realtor site can give you a picture of typical housing for an area, especially which architecture styles and eras are common there.

Many city high rises use realtors to vet tenants and offer varied floor plans for their different-sized units, which realtors will have available to view. Newly constructed housing complexes almost always include floor plans, as do commercial buildings.

Books

There's a series of books published by Dover Architecture that covers all sorts of architectural styles and eras. Here's a sampling:

Small Houses of the Forties
101 Classic Homes of the Twenties
More Craftsman Homes
The American Bungalo, 1880-1930
Turn-of-the-Century Houses
Georgian Archtectural Designs and Details

If you need some contemporary homes for your characters, here are some additional books of floor plans.

Lowe's Bestselling House Plans
The Complete Home Collection

Or simply hit your library's architecture section and photocopy the plan you wish to use.

Map what you know

If your locations are buildings you have access to, do a quick and dirty layout on graph paper, which will help keep the proportions in line. Or ask an artistic friend to do this for you.

Once you have a floor plan, mark it up with details to include in the story, like furniture placement, color schemes and the like--whatever details are necessary. Don't use this as an excuse to endlessly plan and never write!

Do you enjoy exploring and dreaming up architecture? What kinds of building spaces do you need to know to write your story well?

4 comments:

  1. Imagining architecture is SO hard for me, so I always turn to real floor plans. When I was writing about a French comtesse in the 18th century, I discovered that the very chateau she would have lived in was for sale, and all the floor plans were on the realtor's site! Best research ever. (Okay, actually buying the chateau would have been better...)

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    1. What a fabulous find! It is really helpful to have floor plans--takes away the guesswork.

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  2. I love it when I read a story and can really feel and see where the characters are in relation to things, and how the spacial features all work together with the story. This was a nice post.

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    1. I find it saves a lot of time and headache to figure out the lay of the land ahead of time. Because without floor plans, I have indeed made big continuity errors that took an inordinate amount of time to fix during edits. Doh!

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