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Good Online Resources For Buildings And Architectural Design? (2 Viewers)

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TheMightyAz

Staff member
Mentor
I want to improve my descriptive powers for buildings externally and internally. I've been looking through the internet and can't really find a place that brings everything together. Although this question isn't specifically for Avshom Manor in The Sixth Chamber, it's that novel that has me searching. I'm trying to find stand out features I can drop in to describe a huge (almost gothic) interior with broader strokes for the exterior.
 

Bloggsworth

WF Veterans
Websites for National Trust properties, and private such, often have fairly comprehensive descriptions of the architectural features. Of course, some of the great houses are like giant follies from the Hollywood book of Britishness... Only mention specific features if they are plot-linked.
 

JBF

Staff member
Global Moderator
I'd echo the foregoing. From a technical standpoint, atmosphere is probably more useful than architecture.

Ever pick up a copy of The Old House Dictionary? Though arguably correct for the names of obsolete components it may also be fairly argued that nine readers in ten won't know most of the terms, and most of those probably won't be inclined to check.
 

TheMightyAz

Staff member
Mentor
I'd echo the foregoing. From a technical standpoint, atmosphere is probably more useful than architecture.

Ever pick up a copy of The Old House Dictionary? Though arguably correct for the names of obsolete components it may also be fairly argued that nine readers in ten won't know most of the terms, and most of those probably won't be inclined to check.

TBH I would think you are better off with more general descriptions. 'Huge, almost Gothic' makes an image for me that i can't imagine a specific architectural feature managing.

Websites for National Trust properties, and private such, often have fairly comprehensive descriptions of the architectural features. Of course, some of the great houses are like giant follies from the Hollywood book of Britishness... Only mention specific features if they are plot-linked.
So the general consensus is broader strokes not exact detail? I've suffered from white room syndrome in the past so some examples would be more than welcome. The main events take place in a large livingroom with stables out back and a cellar converted into a dungeon like facility. My main focus for this question was the large livingroom so how would you three approach this? Describe it for me so I can get a handle on things, please.
 

Olly Buckle

Mentor
Patron
If you say "The living room had been furnished by several generations of Az's,, each contributing items of quality from their own particular era." for example you have said nothing except that there was age and quality. Confined to that alone, age and quality, it is a bit bald, but dress it up just a little and, well I get responses like "Wow, that's a perfect description of the Australian interior, I can't believe you've never been there.". Same sort of thing about an old man on a hillside in India. I gave him things like 'Birds flying in his peripheral vision'. If I had made it 'Swallows swooping', or 'Hawks diving' I might well have been wrong; simply 'Birds flying' is bloody boring. But spice it up a bit with a nice word pair like 'Peripheral vision', and people start creating images.
 

Taylor

Staff member
Global Moderator
The pointed arch, flying buttress, slender columns, and vaulted ceiling are the features of gothic architecture. Just a wild thought, but have you watched Kenneth Clark's Western Civilization Series? His descriptions of architecture are legendary. Watch the one on Chartres Cathedral.
 

Terry D

Retired Supervisor
I want to improve my descriptive powers for buildings externally and internally. I've been looking through the internet and can't really find a place that brings everything together. Although this question isn't specifically for Avshom Manor in The Sixth Chamber, it's that novel that has me searching. I'm trying to find stand out features I can drop in to describe a huge (almost gothic) interior with broader strokes for the exterior.
Find images which 'speak to you', which have the feeling you want to express and then write out (notes, not narrative yet) not just what you see, but what your other senses suggest to you; the smell of a smoky fire, the texture of the drapes and cushions, the sound (and smell) of the mastiff snoring in the corner of the room, the draft (or stuffiness) of the chamber, its muted sounds, or its echos, let your imagination roam and come up with a long list. Then, when you start to write the scene focus on details which convey the most important characteristics you imagined. A good writer can put his/her reader into that room with a few carefully chosen specific, sensory details. 99% of what you see and imagine is not necessary for the reader. Remember, even if you spend 10 pages describing a room in exquisite detail, your reader will not see it the way you do. It's impossible because words are a flawed, entirely subjective, medium and readers filter your words through their experiences. You can't word-bludgeon them into seeing your vision. The best you can do is to try and create a shared vision, and that's best accomplished by being specific and sensory. And by trusting your reader's imagination.
 

indianroads

Staff member
Global Moderator
Just do a web search.

We learn more by doing than studying. Open your journal, and write descriptions of building images. EVEN BETTER, get out from behind your computer and go into town and look at the buildings, then describe them. There's something ethereal about actually being in their presence that adds depth and color to your writing.

When I ride my motorcycle, I describe my surroundings (I'm not writing them down, obviously); I try to capture the feeling of the air, the smells, along with what I see, and importantly, how I feel in that environment.
 

JBF

Staff member
Global Moderator
I don't have any good examples of the Gothic style, at least that I recall, but I can pirate some of my old stuff and maybe illustrate where I'm coming from.


***

The building was of a pueblo style long since passed out of the popular appreciation, small and square with mud walls and rotting timbers jutting out below the flat roofline. The station didn't appear to be open but in retrospect he didn't know that it had sold a gallon in his lifetime. He made a slow pass out front, past a battered Gulf Oil sign creaking on its chains and a busted Texaco thermometer held by bent nails to the wall.

Built close alongside was a single bay of what had once been a garage, now a checkerboard of jagged glass boarded from behind. Twisted iron roots marked the absence of two pumps that once stood in the shade of an awning half collapsed. Outside those and other than time and weather no vandals had taken notice otherwise; peering through the foggy glass of the locked entrance showed all the signs of lives long vacated – a discolored calendar, an unreadable placard on the front counter, an ancient wooden banker's chair shrouded in cobwebs.

He circled a collapsing rack of split and rotted tires and the rusted ribs of old leaf springs. Past a refrigerator with no door and the broken frame of a couch with faint scraps of turquoise skin over misshapen yellow chunks of foam clinging to the bones, and around the back he found the green box affixed to the wall with the shape of a bell stamped on the front. He pried at the cover, unsurprised to find the phone gone. A directory lay on the shelf below with pages fine and translucent as onionskins.

Denied the call, he put his back to the wall with one foot jacked up and watched the far broken hills. He must have stood so for a full minute in the silence in this forgotten little corner of the world before he shut the box and turned and stood looking, chasing some inkling intermittently elusive and tangible. Working his tongue around his mouth, wondering what it might be to stay here among the ghosts.

***


Now. The target there wasn't to describe the actual place, though descriptions do feature heavily. The target was to describe the sense of place. Notice how everything listed is old and broken? Construing this section of the story about stopping at a gas station misses the point. It's not about the physical location - it's about the MC trespassing in a place that's been left for said ghosts and how he perceives that time moves on, largely indifferent to the lives and aspirations of those it leaves behind.

You could arguably rewrite this in more clinical technical detail. That's true of most things. That being said...pretty much everything you see here is filtered through the eyes of the MC, so a sudden influx of architectural jargon is going to strike readers as odd. Why? Because in the twenty or so pages of this adventure we ideally get a feel for how he thinks. If the tone suddenly changes...the audience notices.

Same as some guys who stop the story cold gush flowery over a pretty girl. Or describe in loving detail the inner workings of a car's engine. One I have to watch for is extraneous firearm details, which is why the operation of anything my MC has to be correct without completely sidelining the plot. Really, anything with deep technical underpinnings is a hazard here. Same for somebody who's injured - if they don't know the medical terms, they aren't going to accurately describe their wound like a doctor would. That they might parrot the terms they hear in the hospital is one thing, but a twenty year old roughneck who falls off a rig isn't going to be using the handbook terms for why his whole right side hurts and he can't feel one leg.

In the end, the only thing really to do is write for the sense rather than the specification.
 

Ralph Rotten

Staff member
Media Manager
Honestly, my favorite way to describe scenery is thru the eyes of my characters.
That way you are doing double duty; you are painting the setting, and illustrating your characters at the same time.
Talk about how the characters see the place, what are their impressions, are they awed by the sweeping columns, does it remind them of something they have seen elsewhere, were they intimidated by the place....? How your characters react to a place tells us about them as people...it helps to illustrate them fully.

Otherwise you will have this long, boring, narrative about this big house and blah blah blah.
 

TheMightyAz

Staff member
Mentor
Honestly, my favorite way to describe scenery is thru the eyes of my characters.
That way you are doing double duty; you are painting the setting, and illustrating your characters at the same time.
Talk about how the characters see the place, what are their impressions, are they awed by the sweeping columns, does it remind them of something they have seen elsewhere, were they intimidated by the place....? How your characters react to a place tells us about them as people...it helps to illustrate them fully.

Otherwise you will have this long, boring, narrative about this big house and blah blah blah.
Specifics are important though. I'm not going to describe something from foundation to roof but having one or two key features helps bring something together. Even when you have the character see it, it's still good to be specific.
 

indianroads

Staff member
Global Moderator
Where possible, I feel it's best to use the reader's imagination when it comes to descriptions of buildings and such things. If it's a gothic building, say so, then mention the pertinent details needed for your story (gargoyles, towers, etc.).
 
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