This post is for the readers out there –
I read a lot. I reread a lot, too. It’s comforting – like watching a rerun of your favorite TV program (the Family Ties when Alex and Mallory visit Princeton and Mallory’s boyfriend breaks up with her), or seeing a great movie on TNT for the twenty-five-thousandth time (You’ve Got Mail, anyone?). You know what’s going to happen, you can predict the dialogue, it ends well…always!
Even though you’re reading something you know, you still stretch your imagination a bit when you visualize your favorite characters in their surroundings. Some authors take pains to describe a character’s wardrobe (okay, maybe that’s mostly in the books I read…not sure if in The Hunt For Red October a great deal of time is devoted to Jack Ryan’s clothing choices). I appreciate it, though, when they do add that detail because it helps me see the action in my mind’s eye.
But you know what is rarely described? The houses where the characters live. Sometimes we’ll read that it’s a “shabby two-story on the outskirts of town”, or a “low, rambling structure”, but we never read, “You walk in to the 5’x5′ parquet-floored foyer, and turn left into the 12’x10′ dining room which also sports hardwood floors…” That’s probably because it’s awkward to write and read.
So we, as readers, are left to our own devices imagining the domiciles wherein the story takes place. As a kid, I would use about four different floor plans. If someone was a wealthy character, I often used my best friend Shelly’s house as the floor plan for that character. If someone had a lot of children, I used my next door neighbor’s tri-level as the scene of the action. If someone lived in an apartment, it looked just like the apartment where my brother’s girlfriend lived. My most-often-used floor plan was the Lazenby’s house from down the block (I used to babysit there).
Now that I am a grown-up and I see houses every day, I have a lot more possibilities for characters to inhabit!
I asked my son the other day when he reads stories, what did the character’s houses look like. God love him, he’s twelve, so he shrugged his shoulders and said, “I don’t know.”
But I can’t be the only one who tries to visualize the houses where characters live, can I? How about you? When you read a story, do you picture the characters floating through the air, never really alighting in a house? Do you use your own home as the scene until you read that the character went upstairs and because you live in a rambler you need to scratch that and come up with something new? Do you have a house in your mind that you use for every scene, whether it’s a Manhattan pied-a-terre or a beach bungalow or a cozy stone cottage in the Cotswolds?
Please let me know in the comments.