Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Elements of Successful Fiction Series

Using Homes as a Tool in Fiction

By Debbie Roome

Welcome to the last part of this series where we’ll be looking at homes. Everybody has a place to call home whether it be a spot under a bridge, an upmarket condo or simply a room. I saw a snatch of a dating reality show recently, where the girl had a chance to explore the bedrooms of three prospective dates. The idea was that she would learn something about their characters by looking at their living space. In a similar way, the introduction of a home into fiction should reveal something to the reader.

Make a List of Types of Home
Stretch your imagination and write a list of at least twenty kinds of homes. Here are a few to get you thinking:

· Bungalows
· Chalets
· Pole and dagga huts
· Boats
· Tents
· Palaces

The type of home your character lives in depends on many factors such as location, wealth, personal taste and circumstances. Be sure to consider all these before creating a home.

What are Homes Constructed from
Homes are built from a wide variety of materials. Think of the western world where most people live in houses constructed from wood or brick with glass windows. In other parts of the world, common materials include stone, mud, grass, prefabricated panels and canvas.

What is in the Home
Once you have decided on the exterior, set about designing the interior. What type of artwork, carpeting, furnishings and drapes suit your fictional character? Would she prefer modern, retro, classic or plain quirky? Is her home filled with potted plants and caged birds or does she prefer sculptures and overstuffed chairs? What about an eccentric dowager whose home is a shrine to Elvis Presley?

Homes Reflect Wealth and Status
The size and location of a home are generally a reflection of a person’s position in society. A king lives in a palace and a beggar in Calcutta lives in a slum. Make sure the home is appropriate for the character.

Ensure the Home Reveals Character
Decide whether it should be pin neat or untidy with piles of papers and a messy kitchen. Are there dusty attics and secret rooms or is the main feature a magnificent library where books surround a favorite chair?

Using a Home to Advance the Plot
Items in the house can be used to move the story along or create intrigue. Think along the lines of stolen jewels hidden in the cellar or someone’s bones in the chimney. Is there an ancient letter caught in the roof that will transform someone’s life? What about a weakness in the design of the home or a flaw in the heating system?

Recommended Reading
John Grisham’s Painted House is an excellent example of using a home in fiction. It tells the story of a house that was never painted because of the cost and what happened when a child decided it needed painting.

A house is an expression of the people that live within it and can be used powerfully in fiction. Don’t dump your characters in a nondescript suburban box if a beach cottage is more conducive to the story – try out different ideas and as your character comes to life, you will know what type of dwelling suits them.

Debbie Roome works as a freelance writer from her home in New Zealand. Visit her at Debbie Roome or read some of her work at Suite 101 , Take Root and Write and Faithwriters.

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1 comment:

Tim George said...


The character in current WIP lives in a hole in the group (an abandoned bomb shelter). What would that reveal about him?

Just kidding. These are great tips.