Here’s a blog post for readers and writers alike. Please comment if, as a reader, you find that descriptions of a character’s living area provide insight to character motivation. In mystery fiction, it’s a great place to plant clues! Writers, do any of you consciously focus on material description of a character’s home in your setting? As I develop as a writer, and as I distinguish what I like as a reader, I’ve thought about how I benefit from knowing about the homes in which characters live.
I like my “Home Tour Havoc” heroine (50 Shades of Cabernet) Olivia Morris so much that I’m writing more adventures for her. As an on-location pet portraitist, she has entre into people’s homes, and I really like writing about the undercurrents and drama of a home’s residents. My fascination with homes began in my suburban childhood. I was welcomed into friends’ homes and fascinated by the habitations and inhabitants. From the outside, rancher homes in our subdivision looked similar. Interior floor plans, too, were almost identical. I was fascinated how varied numbers of family members, furnishings, and décor distinguished the homes, making each a world of its own. Split-level and two-story homes were mansions to me, and I’d catalog every room arrangement and decorator nuance. As interesting as those material aspects were, I realized the family personalities and dynamics attracted my attention more. I noticed how the furniture and ornaments connected to a family member by defining territory, providing comfort, and expressing preferences.
I love a visit to a Homearama and to a Symphony Designer House or other new home showcase. Yes, you’ll find me on the Church Hill Christmas House Tour, the Fan Mother’s Day House and Garden Tour, and attending as many Virginia Historic Garden Week tours as I can manage. Now, those of you who’ve seen my home know that I am not Martha Stewart. I love wandering through upscale homes, but I am willing to forgo living in one. Until I can afford domestic help. Probably not even then. I don’t want the mortgage, and I don’t want to clean or heat a large home.
To truly make me happy, take me to an estate sale. These homes exude vibrations of the lives lived within, stoked by the emotions embedded in the totality of the items in the home. The furnishings you see are often those the home’s residents kept in their everyday lives as long as they could. At estate sales and in thrift shops, I’ve held objects and imagined scenes or felt emotions that make me wonder if “object reading,” or psychometry, is real. An imaginative writer has just got to love the Greek word origin of psychometry – “measure of a soul.”
One of my odd writer habits is reading our local newspaper’s Saturday Homes insert. Yes, I read the property transfer listings, too, mainly to get ideas for street and location names. To prepare for writing this blog, I tore out the page listing some hoity-toity homes for sale by an upscale real estate firm. Tell me what these details say to you. One circa 1790 home with “rare two-board wainscoting,” seven fireplaces, an English garden, and a pool is selling for only half a million – what’s up with that? Another has me sold. Nine-foot ceilings, a slate rear patio, and a workshop – now I want to see that one. One lovely home is priced very low, perhaps due to its location disadvantage. It’s in a town with a smelly paper mill. Another home is described as “professionally renovated.” Well, I guess we need to be on the alert that other “renovated” homes may have been updated by Silas and Emmett, the owner’s cousins? Lastly, here’s a custom 4,500 square-foot home with a ten-car garage. Now, that get’s the imagination flowing!
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