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Every Character Needs a Home

Reveal who your character is through their choice of home.

I once worked as a journalist on an Interior Design magazine. This meant going to interesting houses to interview the owner and then writing up a feature on the décor and layout, the art on the walls, the rugs on the floor, the views from their penthouse suite and whether or not they could see their newly acquired yacht from the terrace. I loved this job and did it for about seven years, never tiring of what essentially was having a good snoop around someone’s house. I didn’t have to quiz the owners on their actions (I was also writing about social issues at the time and spent a lot of time delving into people’s pasts) or ask much at all beyond an item’s provenance, cost and whether they’d done the work themselves or hired an interior designer.

As well as satisfying my natural nosiness (I was a journalist for over twenty years) this particular job allowed me to imagine an assortment of characters, asking myself Who would live here? each time I stepped through someone's door for the first time.

Who would live here? I asked myself when I was asked to view a wine cellar that required nerves of steel and a climb down a vertical ladder through a thick limestone floor. Who would live here? I asked myself when writing about a stunning and very expensive house that sat within sniffing distance of a town’s rubbish dump? Who would live in a house whose décor they weren’t ever allowed to change despite none of it being to their taste? Who would have an ordinary house but spend a fortune on shipping over tonnes of pristine white marble for the floors and walls of their garage?

I didn’t delve into the real owners’ lives. That wasn’t my job. But I did have fun creating characters in my imagination. What else might be hidden in that wine cellar? Why might someone need to live near a rubbish dump? What kind of resentment builds up when you’re never allowed to express your own taste? What kind of person required a garage made of marble?

And then I’d ask myself if this new character I was developing needed a house that was the opposite of what they’d lived in as a child or did they need it to be exactly the same? Was it their taste or their partner’s? Did they fantasise about taking a hammer to the marble in the middle of the night? Did they ever go to the wine cellar for some peace and quiet? Did this house make them happy? Would any house ever make them happy?

When you’re working on character development, it’s really helpful to visualise where this new character lives and how they function in their home. A character’s home reveals so much about them. Do they love books or art? Are they minimalists or hoarders? Are they messy or obsessively tidy? Do they have anywhere in their own house that is just theirs or is every space allocated to someone else? Are there dogs and cats sitting on cushions? Is the kitchen equipped for cooking dinners or is it somewhere to make a quick sandwich? Are they wine buffs? Alcoholics? Drug addicts? Is their huge house a means to launder money? Is there a hidden room? Are they creating a sense of something they are not? Are they hiding something in this house? Does it feel like home to them?

Answer just a few of these questions and your character will start to come alive. It's a great short cut when you're writing a novel with many characters.


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