Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Thursday's Children 9/27/12 Part I Where Do Your Characters Dwell?

"We shape our dwellings, and afterwards our dwellings shape us."
WINSTON CHURCHILL, Sir Winston Churchill: A Self-Portrait

How much thought do you give to the places your characters live?
By that I don't mean geographic location (that'll be another blog post), but the actual house itself. 

Home. There's a loaded word if ever there was one. It might summon feelings of comfort, embarrassment, even terror. A house invariably affects the lives of its inhabitants.  How a home looks, sounds, and even smells, all help to convey its signficance within a story.

A house can be as much a character in the story as any of the human ones.
Houses have personalities.
And sometimes secrets.

The George Jacobs Senior House (see below) was an inspiration for my book

Do you think a home can absorb the essence of those who have lived there?
Can walls, ceilings, and floors retain memories of their own?
If so, could a psychically sensitive person experience past events or personalities if she were to touch one of the structural beams that had once belonged to it?
I used this idea as an inciting event.

The Jacobs house collapsed during the 1930s.

Geo. Jacobs Senior's House c. 1891

This farmhouse helped me flesh out a minor but still important character.
Ezekiel Hovey,local historian and elderly bachelor, who lives with his white cat Mary.
Don't you think this house might smell like boiled cabbage and litter box?

In my YA Contemporary FOOLISH, Sparrow (the MC) lives in a mobile home adorned with hippy graffiti and crammed to the ceiling with her mother's unfinished art projects - it's only a few crocheted afghans shy of being featured on "Hoarders".

But notice the flowers.

So picture this van, as a mobile home, but only half-painted (because her mother never completes anything she starts). 
Of course it's on the wrong side of town, underscoring Sparrow's "have-not" status.
No wonder she can't wait to get the hell out of there. 

But in her next residence she plants a garden, to make her new house feel like home.
Many of us have ambivalence about the places we've called home.

Here's where I envisioned Opal MacBride, (the MC in my book TENDRIL) living with her grandmother, Pearl.
A cottage tucked into a cleft between forested hills, by a quiet lake in New Hampshire where trees and steeples frame the sky.
The walls inside are painted marigold yellow, delphinium blue, and geranium red.

A very "female" sort of place if you like symbolism, which I do.

But after Pearl dies, Opal must live with her Uncle Ned, a lighthouse keeper.
The perpetual fog smells like ocean creatures. When the swells are big Opal hears the hiss and roar of a sea monster, but when the waves are calm Opal imagines she hears mermaids whispering. The walls, floors, and furniture are white, like Opal (who has albinism).
Her uncle has an unhealthy obsession with her.
Constant movement, craggy cliffs, and of course, the lighthouse itself, you can't get much more "masculine" than that. It is here that Opal must reclaim her sexuality.

Photo Courtesy of Kari Jo Spear

Where do your characters dwell, and what does that say about them?

Does knowing what a character's house looks like, smells like, sounds like help your reader understand him or her?

Does knowing where your characters live help you understand them better?

For Thursday's Children this week Kristina Perez blogged about Falling With Grace, and as a former competitive figure skater I bet she knows a thing or two about that. Her post goes up on Thursday.

Here's the Linky List so anybody else who wants to share their Thursday inspirations can be part of an ongoing Bloghop.


  1. You really are a wonderful writer, Rhiann. It's so easy to imagine how very full of life your stories are and I look forward to reading them all one day. :) Houses, and landscape are definitely characters--I have an entire city that is a major personality in my novel. As we are shaped by what surrounds, so do we return the that influence. It is a relationship as defining as the ebb and flow of life.

    1. Thanks Denise, I can't wait to read yours too. Ooo, a whole city with personality, now that sounds fun :) And thanks re the new look, my daughter thinks my statuary planter is "creepy", but what does she know, eh?

  2. First off, I have to say that both of the stories you mentioned sound wonderful. I often connect with nature as a character in my stories, but having read this post, I know I don't pay enough attention to my characters' homes. I'll definitely be using your questions to delve a little deeper. Thanks! :)

    1. Well good, I'm glad if my post gets those writerly gears grinding :-) And I'm so glad to see you joined us too, went over to your blog and left a note.

  3. Rhiann,

    Sorry I'm late, I did decide to join you, but forgot to let you know ahead of time. I'm having trouble with the blog hop link. I'll keep trying to figure it out. If you need to reach me I'm at yolandarenee (at) hotmail (dot) com.
    I love your post and the photo's you used to tell the story. Excellent!

    1. Hi Yolanda, I'm glad you figured it out, we were having some trouble with it this morning - stupid html. Loved your post as well, commented on your blog :-)

  4. Figured it out, you simple paste it not link it! I'm up and running! Is there a badge to post?

    1. Kristina, mistress of all trades, is going to make a badge once she gets home from vacation. Then we'll be all official-like ;-)

  5. Wonderful inspiration as usual, my lovely. I could totally see Opal living there, too. Next I want to see a lighthouse retrospective. Oh, the symbolism! :-) Thanks for being so great yesterday, and just generally.

    1. A lighthouse retropsective-I'll put it on my list. You're no slouch when it comes to general greatness, my dear.

  6. Hi Rhiann!
    I'm so mad at myself! I forgot:( I got it in my head that today is Wednesday. I came over to leave you a comment and let you know my post would be up tomorrow. But as I see, tomorrow is today. Shoot! I'm sorry but this time next week I'll be prepared. My post will be drafted an md ready to go.
    I'm sorry I missed out in this hop. You article was so inspiring.

    1. I shall look forward to seeing your name on the list this coming Thursday!

  7. Hi Rhiann,
    what a wonderful blog and really nice post! I just love it! Houses do have something special about them, don't they? I always think my house reflects my personality completely (that's why I put it full of stuff, just because I think that's cozy) ;)
    I'm a new follower!

    1. I'm so glad you visited, enjoyed, and joined-now the next step is for you to participate in the bloghop :)

  8. Sense of home is important to a character's micro culture, and especially with children, even their space within the home, their room or a cubby house, a tree branch, where ever they feel that is their place shapes them as well. Thoughtful post.

    1. So true, Charmaine. My childhood bedroom was a combo of familiar comfort and frightening (stairs up to our attic through my closet-I was quite convinced "things" lived up there, aside from the mice, and at night I wasn't sure they'd stay up there).

  9. I love the way setting frames the whole story - and your examples were excellent. I write fantasy and have trouble finding images that are as concrete as yours - but an old house I once lived in did inspire a short story that has never quite left me alone.

    Great post!

    1. Thanks for stopping by Raewyn. Maybe that short story's asking to be turned into a novel!

  10. haha, just wrote a long comment and it vanished when I tried to post it.. sorry. Just wanted to say thanks for the great blog post, so true! I have a character who lives on a misty, lonely island to enhance the desolation of what his life has become. Great pics and great post, wish I had seen it sooner.