Researching My Research: My Characters’ Homes

french chateau

In most novels, we get a glimpse into the homes the characters live in. Sometimes it’s detailed, sometimes it’s left up to the reader’s imagination. But chances are, the author had a definite idea of what the home looked like and the basic floor plan as the characters went on with their day to day life.

Part of this attention to detail is due to continuity issues. You want to be sure that the green paint in the dining room in chapter three doesn’t somehow turn into blue wallpaper in chapter seventeen. That the blue bedspread they lay on doesn’t change to yellow. In LeMarais, Maggie’s rental home in Seattle has pink bathroom fixtures that Jaime finds repulsive. Apparently, the Bungalow’s bathroom had been remodeled in the 1950’s. It’s very important to make sure that the house is old enough to have such fixtures, or to have been remodeled in this way. And so, it’s not just about the story line. Logic is an important piece of the creation as well. If the world that surrounds the characters isn’t believable, then the characters aren’t believable either. The author becomes untrustworthy.

But it is Jaime’s house that fascinated me the most. I fictitiously placed his home on Queen Anne in Seattle. A four-square, three story house, built in 1911. He has painstakingly renovated it over the five years he has lived there. A project, in part, to occupy his mind and body to keep him out of the liquor bottles that are stored neatly in a beautiful cabinet in his dining room. I know how his home looks, inside and out. Some of it is mentioned in the manuscript, some of it is not. I know he uses sandalwood and lemon oil on the oak mission style furniture. I can smell it when I write about it. I know how many steps he has to take to get to his home office on the top floor.

Does this house really exist? No. But I’ve been in four-squares before, and I know how they feel. I began ‘building’ his house in my mind by looking up four-square house plans. I chose one, and moved some rooms around until it seemed right. The bright yellow bathroom in the downstairs hall, the library off the living room. The dining room, living room and library separated by large oak sliding doors that open into one large space. It was waiting for him to move in, to begin the adventure. As I open the door into his library, I smell the leather bindings of the books with French titles.

And then, there’s the manor house in Versailles. Waiting, always waiting for his return. The curved staircase going up to a room that holds secrets, the cherry trees which can be seen through the cracked kitchen window. For this, I went to, and wandered through houses that were for sale in France.  I mentally put two or three of these together, and drew out a floor plan that would fit into my story. I fell in love with one of them and wanted to buy it.

My Sci-Fi Writer friends call this ‘world building.’ It’s a process that has no end. You can easily be drawn into the world you create, build your castle, and move in.