The roof overhead.
The window your main character gazes through.
The threshold walked across.
The door opened. Or slammed shut.
Structural features may be used symbolically to (1) foreshadow, (2) reveal character, (3) provide conflict, (4) a amplify conflict, and ( 5) propel plot.
Many of architectural elements mentioned below are universal symbols.
- lets in the light of knowledge/understanding….or not ( which would be irony )
- allows character to view the outside world–which may or may not be a good thing.
Some things to consider.
- Are the windows dirty or clean? Does the character have a clear view of the outside world or is theirs a distorted ‘grimy’ view of the world and its people?
- Are the windows covered with drapes so the characters don’t have to look out?Are the blinds closed against the outside world or open to all the world’s good and bad?
- Are the windows made of stained glass? If they contain religious iconography the characters might see the world through the dogma of their religion.
- Is the window stuck open? That might suggest the outside world can enter the character’s space at will? Or is the window stuck closed suggesting elements ( people, culture, etc) are shutting out the character?
- divide between good and evil
- transition from one stage of life to another
- divide between one world and another
- Locked doors suggest secrets and forbidden places/worlds/experience
Consider the door itself. Is it old,carved, made of gold, glass, steel, iron-barred, painted red, padlocked, chained, burned, narrow, tall, wide, heavy, hollow, odd-shaped, revolving? What does the door knob or the knocker look like?
- often a divine or religious entrance into another state of being/consciousness/awareness/self-actualization/spirituality
- metaphysical time-space threshold
Once again, consider the construction of the doorway? Is it ancient or new? Do flowers twine around it? Is it alien technology? Ancient alien technology? is it unstable, ready to collapse ( suggesting once you go through you cannot come back) ?
- division or barrier
Yep, you know it… is the wall flimsy, strong? Made of rock? Have a hole in it? Or a peep hole? Have a window? Covered in wallpaper? Hiding a dead body inside?
- earthy realm
- being grounded in reality
- flooring type may be symbolic. Is it marble ( wealth ) or rustic wood ( humility )?
- keeps evil out
- shape of the roof may be suggestive
- Domed roofs are emblematic of heaven
- Low roofs suggest restriction or being hemmed in by societal conventions or religious/political/cultural etc dogmas
- Vaulting roofs may be metaphor for high-mindedness or lofty ideals
- transitional space
- location before deciding which symbolic door you will enter
Don’t neglect to describe the hallway. Is it bright, dark, smoke-filled, narrow, wide, opulent?
- steps toward or away from morality, enlightenment
- winding staircases suggest mystery–one can’t see straight ahead
Are the steps narrow, well-worn, slippery, broken, crumbled, threadbare, marble, or Persian rug-covered?
- traditional domain of women
- maternal care taking, be it with food, spiritual, or motherly nourishment
- best place to get your hands on a knife
You guessed, if it’s relevant to the story describe the kitchen. Modern, grandma-esque, never-been-cooked-in? Spanking clean or crumb-covered?
Living room/Drawing room
- room where proper social behavior was expected
- location of one’s public persona
You get it now! If it’s relevant to the plot or helps in characterization, don’t forget to describe the living room. Modern? Lots of antiques? Messy, neat? Tons of knickknacks? Minimalistic? Dark or light? Dusty, flowery?
- private room where one’s true self appears
Yowza! This might be a deep characterization goldmine.
- synonymous with learning, knowledge, and education
- place of ancient wisdom or secrets
- repository of tucked away memories and secrets
- place of half-remembered or forgotten truths
- storage for relics of the family’s or ancestor’s past
- deepest darkest secrets
- underworld or lower realms
- creepy or base desires
I love questions! Leave a comment here, tweet me at @AutumnBardot ( where you’ll get the quickest response), or hit me up on Goodreads! I’ve been teaching college-level literary analysis for 14 years, and enjoy helping new writers understand and incorporate all the tricks and techniques of the trade.