Buildings in stories - Getting Architecture Right


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  1. #1

    Buildings in stories - Getting Architecture Right

    This is a frequent problem for me - anybody else?

    I try not to set too much of my story in unfamiliar buildings, and if I do I try to minimize the amount of description, but I do find a relative lack of knowledge of how non-everyday buildings are laid out to be a problem mainly from the point of view of 'seeing the scene' in my head. You can't really research the way buildings look and feel beyond a point without setting foot in them, I find. Which can be a challenge,,.

    A WIP takes place inside of an old house. I based it on the Queen Anne architecture of a nearby mansion which is, like many in the US, privately owned and not open to the public. I'm always particularly interested how Fantasy authors write scenes set in castles, especially given how so few authentic castles are in good condition.

    Anyway, just thought it might be an interesting topic. Anybody else have some interesting buildings in their stories and, if so, how did you find integrating them into your story went?
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  2. #2
    Wɾʇ∩9 bdcharles's Avatar
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    I love a good architectural drama (I enjoy Ken Follett and ... unpopular opinion, but I thoroughly enjoyed Ayn Rand's The Fountainhead). In my first book there is a warehouse party in a huge deserted power station that vaguely resembles Battersea, plus a whole section of the book in a "castle" (it's really a more modern Arts-and-Crafts mountain lodge - a bit like the Overlook in The Shining, but they call it the Castle), and others. My approach is that sometimes it starts with a visit to such a house (in the UK you can visit a lot of these places as a member of the public), sometimes I just envision the place, google some information and images to ensure nothing is too out of place, and let my imagination take over. But I tend not to over-research - for example, in this "castle" it is I suppose vaguely Overlook-inspired but beyond what the characters directly see (maybe the occasional long-distance tell) so there may be parts that are never experienced so I just don't include them. But I try to include little details that are characteristic of the architecture and build out a little bit of the sense and feel of the place. Subtle details, simply deployed, I suppose, would by my method.


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  3. #3
    Quote Originally Posted by luckyscars View Post
    This is a frequent problem for me - anybody else?

    I try not to set too much of my story in unfamiliar buildings, and if I do I try to minimize the amount of description, but I do find a relative lack of knowledge of how non-everyday buildings are laid out to be a problem mainly from the point of view of 'seeing the scene' in my head. You can't really research the way buildings look and feel beyond a point without setting foot in them, I find. Which can be a challenge,,.

    A WIP takes place inside of an old house. I based it on the Queen Anne architecture of a nearby mansion which is, like many in the US, privately owned and not open to the public. I'm always particularly interested how Fantasy authors write scenes set in castles, especially given how so few authentic castles are in good condition.

    Anyway, just thought it might be an interesting topic. Anybody else have some interesting buildings in their stories and, if so, how did you find integrating them into your story went?
    Have you tried asking the people who live or work there what said mansion is like on the inside? They might give a tour or describe it to you. Come right out and tell them you're writing a story about a similar house and what to get the feel of the architecture right. People who live in exceptionally old or unique houses often know quite a lot about the house and its history.

    Another option is to find an architect and ask them about Queen Anne architectural style.

    Lots of people are willing to help--especially if they think it's for a book. You may have to let them know if/where/how many times you've been published so they don't think you're scamming them or casing the place.

    I'm terrible with architecture in stories, by the way. Don't ask me what era any house came from. My stories often involve descriptions of houses--unusual or otherwise--but the POVs I'm writing from aren't going to know or care what era said house came from, and I don't know anyone who even cares bout such things (though some people do have preferences for a given age of architecture, they're often unable to say what age it is).
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  4. #4
    Funny you should mention castles.
    I have lived in close proximity to 2 castles in my lifetime.
    One of them right here in Arizona.


    I am a big fan of google earth to look at an area where I am writing, and see what kinds of buildings they have in the area.
    I am always mindful of the fact that homes are not built the same everywhere in the world as they are here in Tucson.

    but for historical structures like you mention, I'd research it online.
    Use Google's image search, find the places you are looking for, and follow the images back to their parent sites.

    There are a growing number of places being recorded for Virtual Reality, and you can visit many with a $20 headset and a cellphone using Youtube VR.
    Tho, the YouTube VR is not as good as Steam VR (they turn a 4k video into a 360 degree image)

    I found this non-VR video related to your project.

  5. #5
    And that video led to this one, which led to about a dozen more tours of similar architecture:

  6. #6
    Member Rojack79's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by luckyscars View Post
    Anyway, just thought it might be an interesting topic. Anybody else have some interesting buildings in their stories and, if so, how did you find integrating them into your story went?
    Well I went about researching the building's of ancient Greece, Rome and the Viking Era for my alternate history/fantasy series. So far it's been very interesting blending all of those buildings together along with the industrial technology of the time such as trains and lanterns. I think however the most challenging area to write about has been the eldritch realms. That place is an architectural nightmare, non euclidean geometry galore.
    This might not be my best work but that just means there's room to improve.

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  7. #7
    Quote Originally Posted by seigfried007 View Post
    Have you tried asking the people who live or work there what said mansion is like on the inside? They might give a tour or describe it to you. Come right out and tell them you're writing a story about a similar house and what to get the feel of the architecture right. People who live in exceptionally old or unique houses often know quite a lot about the house and its history.

    Another option is to find an architect and ask them about Queen Anne architectural style.

    Lots of people are willing to help--especially if they think it's for a book. You may have to let them know if/where/how many times you've been published so they don't think you're scamming them or casing the place.
    I thought about it. It feels a little rude to ask to look in houses people actively live in so I can snoop around, to me. I wouldn't like it myself. The mansion I am basing my building on is surrounded by a large fence that makes it essentially impossible to ring the doorbell even if I felt inclined to.

    Quote Originally Posted by bdcharles View Post
    I love a good architectural drama (I enjoy Ken Follett and ... unpopular opinion, but I thoroughly enjoyed Ayn Rand's The Fountainhead). In my first book there is a warehouse party in a huge deserted power station that vaguely resembles Battersea, plus a whole section of the book in a "castle" (it's really a more modern Arts-and-Crafts mountain lodge - a bit like the Overlook in The Shining, but they call it the Castle), and others. My approach is that sometimes it starts with a visit to such a house (in the UK you can visit a lot of these places as a member of the public), sometimes I just envision the place, google some information and images to ensure nothing is too out of place, and let my imagination take over. But I tend not to over-research - for example, in this "castle" it is I suppose vaguely Overlook-inspired but beyond what the characters directly see (maybe the occasional long-distance tell) so there may be parts that are never experienced so I just don't include them. But I try to include little details that are characteristic of the architecture and build out a little bit of the sense and feel of the place. Subtle details, simply deployed, I suppose, would by my method.
    Unfortunately there's nothing really like the National Trust in the US so with the exceptions of very famous houses (like Jefferson's Monticello, which I believe is managed by the Parks) you can't really access them.

    Quote Originally Posted by Ralph Rotten View Post
    Funny you should mention castles.
    I have lived in close proximity to 2 castles in my lifetime.
    One of them right here in Arizona.


    I am a big fan of google earth to look at an area where I am writing, and see what kinds of buildings they have in the area.
    I am always mindful of the fact that homes are not built the same everywhere in the world as they are here in Tucson.

    but for historical structures like you mention, I'd research it online.
    Use Google's image search, find the places you are looking for, and follow the images back to their parent sites.

    There are a growing number of places being recorded for Virtual Reality, and you can visit many with a $20 headset and a cellphone using Youtube VR.
    Tho, the YouTube VR is not as good as Steam VR (they turn a 4k video into a 360 degree image)

    I found this non-VR video related to your project.
    That's very interesting, thank you!

    I'm actually fairly comfortable with exteriors. I have done a lot of research on architecture over the years for one thing or another so describing how a building looks from the outside I am okay with. I know the jargon and stuff.

    What I find hard is 'mapping' the house on the inside, if that makes sense? Maybe these VR tours you posted will help, but I guess my concern is that in order to get a real feel for spatial dimensions, the smell, the general 'vibe' of a place I suspect one would usually need to go inside it physically. Hopefully that's me overthinking things again, but I find it hard to visualize things that well from pictures and videos alone. One of my stories is set in Italy and I feel like if I had never been there I would have really struggled there because the atmosphere in the cities is so different.

    Thanks for the feedback, everyone!
    "If you don't like my peaches, don't shake my tree."

  8. #8
    There was some really cool stuff in the videos, like how they had window shutters that fold up into an alcove in the window frame. That was such a classy bit of design (and a great place for someone to hide secret stuff.)
    Or how about the 2nd stairwell...for the servants.


    PS: You can contact the people who created the videos for feedback on how they smell & feel. Promise them a blurb in the back of your book or whatever. Or even just post questions in the comments field at the bottom of the page. People actually read those comments. I get likes all the time on comments I post on YouTube.

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