Michael Lee West
Interior Design for Fiction Writers
byon June 28th, 2011 at 08:49 PM (2719 Views)
[CENTER]When I write a novel, I'm part-author and part-interior designer. [/CENTER]
[CENTER]I don't have a budget and the rooms don't require dusting or vacuuming.[/CENTER]
[CENTER]I don't need home owner's insurance, don't pay property taxes, and never need to call a repairman.
Building a fictional setting is similar to shopping for a real house. I spend a long, long time shopping. During this "pre-writing" period, which can last months, I must find a home that defines my character's character.[/CENTER]
[CENTER]Once I nail down a house style, I start adding details. Sometimes I find them in magazines or online. Hand's down, I prefer to use real settings. [/CENTER]
[CENTER]I also love shopping for houses. But when I'm writing, this is a different kind of shopping because I've been hired to find a home for my character.
Every detail matters. Colors can't be arbitrary, nor can decorative objects. [/CENTER]
I loved decorating a vampire's manse in [I]Acquainted With the Night[/I]--how would a wealthy immortal deal with sun-filled rooms? Would he hire an architect to seal the windows? Or would that cause gossip? Would a human designer kiss-and-tell? What if she created a horrible room? Would the vampire bite her? Perhaps it would be better to hire a vampy designer, someone who works after sunset and won't "decorate-and-tell," someone who understands the need for dark interiors.
Of course, as a writer, I can't put all of my research into a book, so I have to paint rooms with bold strokes. I don't do this quickly. I can't throw in extraneous details. When you read a book and come upon a fictional room, chances are those objects have been hand-picked by the author.
Writing professors advise authors to add colors and objects that deepen a character and/or move the plot forward. It's as if you've gone to the best tag sale in the world, and you only have a certain amount of money to spend.
[CENTER]Authors agonize over these hard choices.[/CENTER]
[CENTER]But that's part of the process, picking and choosing.[/CENTER]
[CENTER]Unlike real decorating, an imaginary designer must select items that add layers to a character or a setting--details must work behind-the-scenes and resonate in a reader's subconscious. Writers must also utilize the psychology of color.[/CENTER]
[CENTER]In Gone With a Handsomer Man, Coop O'Malley is a rule following lawyer, but he wants to see the world in a thousand shades of gray. He didn't rent this beach house on a whim. It says everything about the man he hopes to become.[/CENTER]
[CENTER]But the interior is black-and-white. True, his mother, Fat Irene, decorated it, but a mother can shape her son's worldview).[/CENTER]
[CENTER]It's relevent that Teeny's house is pink, but her front door is gray. And each time Coop passes through Teeny's gray door, his character blossoms.[/CENTER]
[CENTER]Readers see fictional rooms and homes in their mind's eye. If the author has done her job, the reader will notice the main items and add their own details.That's the best kind of fictional decor--where authors and reader are co-designers. [/CENTER]
[CENTER]So a writer might describe an old world kitchen, and in passing she might mention a fireplace at the far end of the room, with copper pots hanging from the rafters.
Someone, somewhere, will read the book and add these details:[/CENTER]
The kitchen in [I]Something's Gotta Give[/I] has become an iconic symbol. I blogged about it three years ago, and people are still blogging about it. You can see the photos [URL="http://designsbygollum.blogspot.com/2008/04/somethings-gotta-give.html"]HERE[/URL].
Notice how the white furnishings perfectly depicted the character's world view? All of that ambient white wasn't accidental, was it? By the end of the movie, Diana Keanton's character had stopped wearing white turtlenecks. And she was adding color to her shell collection.
Do you have a favorite fictional decor? What are you working on now? Are you using color for impact? Do you give a character's house its own Enneagram?