Writing A Novel Is Like Building A House
The similarities between the two events are more than surface deep.
Over the years, many writers have used analogies for writing. Some have been very astute and worked perfectly, others have fallen flat. There is one though, that seems to be so similar it is almost scary.
My best friend and his husband are building a new house, and as they were furniture shopping this weekend, it hit me that this was the same thing as novel writing. Once the thought took hold of me, it would not let go.
Let’s start at the beginning. One day my best friend sent me a picture of some dirt on the ground. This unusual text demanded an explanation. When asked to clarify why he would send me dirt, the truth was revealed: He and his husband had decided to have a house built and that was the foundation for the house, if I looked close enough.
Likewise, there has to be a starting point to writing a novel. The foundation for any novel is the idea. Without having an idea or somewhere to start there is no point to sitting down and writing a novel.
And if the foundation isn’t strong enough, the house will come crashing down. So it is important to make sure that it can hold up the weight of the house. For a novel, the idea needs to be able to span over 50,000 or more words without crashing in on itself.
After the foundation is laid, the next thing that goes up are the walls. These wooden beams will be the main attraction. Not only do they offer privacy for the occupants but they also hold in the heat.
Characters are the walls of novels. If the characters that are created are sturdy enough, they can hide some elements of the plot until it is time for the audience to know it, and they can be a comfort. A villain performing evil acts would be the cold and the heroes trying to stop them would be the heat.
As the walls come up, better material is used. Drywall is the most common material used. It is sturdy and nobody questions it much. Electricity is run through the walls, as is the plumbing.
Motivation and backstory are the plumbing and electricity of novel writing. There is no doubt a novel can be written without either of those things, but it won’t hold the same interest as one that is written with those things. They are what keeps the reader turning the pages long after they should have turned in for the night.
Taking the metaphor one step further. If backstory is the plumbing, it can explode and cause a mess later on. Or if the motivation is the electricity, it can blow out and leave the novel in the dark. Make sure to keep those things flowing nicely but don’t overwhelm the story with them.
What is a house without floors? It would be nothing more than walls over the dirt. Floors make it possible to move easily around the house and generally safely. They also add a certain pizazz to the house.
Likewise, the floors of a novel would be the plot. Without having a plotline to lead readers through the novel, there would only be characters. While there have been some terrific novels with only characters, those are far and few between. Most character driven novels have at least a bare thread plot to keep the audience invested.
Of course there are different version of floors. Among the most common are hardwood, tile, and carpeting. Each have their own appeal and most houses, including the one that initiated this metaphor.
Carpet can hide some of the details of the plot or could make the readers feel safe and soft. Hardwood floors would give away a lot of information, which is good when writing a romance or comedy. Those genres are not known for being subtle, unlike say a mystery or fantasy novel. Finally tile floors are almost a mix of both. Subtle and not. Conceals some things and reveals others.
Even a house without rooms has a room. Most houses have at least a few rooms. A living room (or some call it a main room), a kitchen, a bathroom, and at least one bedroom.
With a novel, the rooms would be the twist and turns that keep the audience guessing at what will happen next or at the very least interested in the story. It will be what they talk about to their friends the next day or long after they have finished the book. Same as how they talk about the different rooms they have seen in houses over the years.
Why mention the types of rooms? In the house that my best friend is building there are rooms I have never heard of before, like a gathering room. What? It’s not the living room where the TV and fireplace will be. It’s the room when you walk into the house. Just like the main plot is what readers are first introduced to and a guest in the house will exit through the same room generally.
The other rooms can be used for various different things. A bedroom could be a romantic twist or the kitchen would be the big twist of the story. A living room could be a predictable twist but one that is also necessary.
My best friend’s house has three levels to it. The main floor, the basement, and the “second” floor. Each level has a unique purpose to it. Obviously, the main floor is where most of the action will take place; with the living room, the gathering room, and the kitchen/dining room. Not to mention an office and a powder room.
In a novel the main arc would be the main floor. Entertaining folks and seeding in the twists to keep the plot moving forward. As with the main floor and guests, the main story is where most characters will be met.
The other floors of our novel house would be subplots. Each are fed by and feed into the main plotline. At least in well thought out books that is what happens.
If the garage is attached to the house or there is an attic in the house, as my best friend’s house has, those would be sneaky subplots. Those are are the kinds of stories the author did not plan but happen nonetheless.
Final Walk Through
Thus far we have talked about the actual building and structure of the house. But now the house is completely built. Everything should be done and perfect but since it was built by humans, maybe something is wrong. My best friend and his husband did their final walk through on their house recently to let the builder know if anything needed to be changed or fixed.
With novel writing, we call this edits or revisions. The characters should be three-dimensional, the plot should be smooth, and the twists should make sense. The subplots should flow nicely into the main story. Everything should work together to invite the reader into the story and keep them there for a while.
Once both the first edit and the walk through are done, that’s when things get interesting.
Once the final walk through happens, the house needs to be filled with furniture and other accessories. A dining room table is needed, a couch, TV. Pictures need to be put on the wall. In other words, most people want their house to be an extension of their personality.
A novel with just a story is no fun. There needs to be wit, emotion, and really good grammar. No matter how good the story is or how funny a character might be, bad grammar will turn off the reader. And while flowery language is not needed, metaphors (pictures on the wall) are needed for a more well rounded and easier to read story.
This and That
With the house metaphor nearly beat to death, another aspect came to mind. My best friend owns the house he currently lives in and also the house that was built. They have decided to sell the current house, but it hasn’t happened yet. This can be compared to writing a standalone novel or a series of books.
From the ground it is built on to the finished product, writing a novel is just like building a house. There can be no mistake about that.