descriptors / writers resources / writing

How to Describe Your Character’s Home II

A couple of weeks ago, I posted a list of descriptors I’ve collected on homes, gleaned from the 5-10 books I read every month, but quickly found I have a lot more to say about this topic. A home tells as much about a character as a long narrative about their background and personal history–in a more interesting fashion. By discussing the choices s/he makes in decor, furniture, nick-nacks, cleanliness, you as writer speak volumes about the motivations and core of the people in your book, develop empathy with the reader, and make them likable or feared.

Here are some of my favorite ‘home’ descriptions organized by:

someone's home

Is this your character’s home? Maybe for Lord Hawke.

  • Overall
  • Outside
  • Room
  • Yard
  • Bathroom
  • Doors
  • Entry
  • Walls
  • Windows
  • Furniture
  • Sensory

As with all my descriptors, don’t use these verbatim!. They are some other author’s intellectual property. Use them for inspiration. See how others have done it so you can create your own unique path.

Overall

rustic elegance

Do you see a dinner party in this room?

  • Fair-sized house built of red Lyons Sandstone with the most god-awful-looking picket fence I’d ever seen.
  • Small upstairs apartment on Newport Island, a tiny piece of land accessible only by a bridge so narrow, it would admit just one car at a time.
  • The weather-beaten slat cottage sat at the far end of a mostly brown lawn. Wood silvered by the sun. Roof shingles warped. Small stands of plantain and giant bird-of-paradise for privacy.
  • Rambling old farm house
  • Gleamed with the spotless silence of for-company-only.
  • He leaned on the old boards. They felt thin and veined, frozen by a hundred winters, baked by a hundred summers. They smelled of dust and age.
  • A big house, the kind in which most American kids dreamed of growing up. Secluded among trees on one of DC’s most exclusive streets, it had turrets, gables, dormers, balconies, a screened-in front porch, a free-standing garage, a gazebo, a pool, formal gardents, the American dream.
  • Sturdy two-story residence designed without the least imagination

Outside

fixer upper

Or is this closer? Barely making it.

  • Were columns and friezes and arched windows twenty feet high
  • It might once have been nice; it might once have been the home of an actual family. But scrub and tall weeds now covered the yellowed lawn, which clearly hadn’t been cut in years. A wire fence bordered the property, sagging at spots where the wind had knocked it down, a wooden gate hanging from its post.
  • Set far back from the curb, beneath three tower pines. It was white plaster with a brown tile roof and Castillian wrought iron over the windows.
  • The house was an old brown tumbledown wreck, its clapboard weathered and cracked, several roof shingles missing
  • Beyond them rough hills sloping into the sharp blue Pacific
  • Perimeter of the grounds was patrolled by armed security, and every inch of the property was wired with cameras, security lighting, and motion sensors.

Yard

  • Weed-choked courtyard
  • Home. eight acres of scrub and savannah, a pasture and paddock, a pond, a stream, avocado, lemon and orange trees loaded with fruit.
  • It was abandoned. It had a mailbox entirely hidden by tall grass. Its driveway was overgrown. It had bushes and brambles up against the door and the windows. It had weeks in the gutters, and green slime on the walls, and a cracked foundation pierced by creeper tendrils thicker than my wrists.

Room

  • Small with clean white walls, a twin bed, a desk with a blank blotter on it, sliding closets opposite the bed, and thin green shag carpet.
  • My Writing Area: My computer faces out the window. I like having the sky and buildings in the background. Occasionally a bird or plane flies by in the distance. To my far left is my 42″ flatscreen TV (size does matter), which often displays my daily dose of CNN or Grey’s Anatomy. Next to that is my Buddhist altar, which I need to make better use of. To my right is a framed poster displaying a poem of mine that had been on Chicago buses and trains. And to the far right is a black and white picture of Grand Central Station with wide beams of light gushing in through the windows. The beams look like they are about to make the commuters levitate at any minute and float skyward.
  • A single light burned, casting light on a chintz couch and an antique Quaker chair
  • Improvised kitchenette off to one side
  • Walls and ceilings were covered with mirrors, a high-tech bordello.
  • Furnishings were cheap, black-painted. A worn mustard-yellow bean-bag chair, a relic of the seventies. An old tape deck and a towering set of speakers whose cloth was fraying

Door

  • A front door that could accommodate a family of giraffes.

Entry

  • A foyer that would accommodate the Serengeti Plant at the foot of a vast curving staircase that probably went to heaven
  • Polished wood floors and a graceful banister that curved up toward a soaring second floor gallery.
  • Persian rug cove red a shopworn carpet.

Walls

  • Prints of gentlemen riding to hounds decorate the walls.
  • Crumbling rock walls

Windows

  • Beautiful high arched windows
  • Velvet drapes framed the windows, the lace inner curtains remained drawn, allowing daylight to enter while rendering the heart-stopping view over the city a blur
  • bay windows

Bathroom

  • The bathroom was clean. The tub and the towels were dry. The medicine cabinet above the sink had a mirrored door and behind it were over-the-counter analgesics, and toothpaste, and tampons, and dental floss, and spare soap and shampoo.

Furniture, etc.

  • Uses his exercise bike as a clothes rack
  • Old wooden chair with the two missing back slats
  • gathered the whole mess and shifted it to the alarmingly large pile tilting dangerously
  • Locked in shadow in a corner of the room
  • Brown plaid sofa with heavy oak arms, a bookcase neatly stocked with paperbacks, family pictures on one wall, a china cabinet against another.
  • beautiful gilded mirror
  • FBI-approved safe, a four-drawer Mosler combination safe, concrete-and-steel, good for material up to top secret
  • trestle table
  • lamps washed the window in a strong incandescent glow

    Is this how busy your protagonist is?

    Is this how busy your protagonist is?

  • He rummaged through the chest. Tshirts were pushed into the top drawer along with more underwear and wadded socks. The next drawer down held a pair of folded sweatpants but nothing else. The final drawer held nothing belonging to the thief, just a stack of well-0fingered brochures and menus from local businesses.

Sensory

  • Back when home was more than a TV and a microwave
  • No sound in the house, not even the sounds that houses make: air-conditioning, or furnace, or the stairwell creaking, or the frig cycling on; nothing but a silence that seemed to have been thickening since
  • doors opened and closed and water ran and toilets flushed and then the house went quiet. The heating system whirred and the taped-up football players muttered and grunted and snored
  • is your garage like your garden or like your television set?

Jacqui Murray is the author of the popular Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy. She is webmaster for six blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice book reviewer, a columnist for Examiner.com and TeachHUB, Editorial Review Board member for Journal for Computing TeachersCisco guest blogger, Technology in Education featured blogger, and IMS tech expert. She is  the editor of a K-6 technology curriculumK-8 keyboard curriculumK-6 Digital Citizenship curriculum, creator of technology training books for middle school and ebooks on technology in education. Currently, she’s editing a thriller that should be out to publishers next summer. Contact Jacqui at her writing office or her tech lab, Ask a Tech Teacher.

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8 thoughts on “How to Describe Your Character’s Home II

  1. Tks, useful.

    Is there a single site that shows with pictures various architectural elements like facade, patio, portico, etc.

  2. To a novice writer it’s a real eye-opener and fresh new angle that didn’t cross/touch my imagination [that’s why I suppose I’m still a novice!]. I can only admire your useful and inspiring ideas for others. I’ve learnt so much over the last year or so from your posts. I say again, Thank you very much Jacqui for your help. Arun

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