The novel as house

Writing is sometimes compared to other art forms: a novel as a painting (or mural), a short story as a deft watercolor.  Personally, I think the closest parallel to writing a novel is designing a house.

If I had not been a novelist, I would love to have been an architect. (My friend SJ Rozan is an architect and a novelist, with some interesting things to say about how the two professions relate.  Watch for her at a conference near you.)  I might even have tried it, had I been able to grasp basic mathematical concepts, but that’s another story.  Both writing a novel and designing a building require a blend of inspiration and craft, of trying one thing and finding a better element and then seeing a way to make all the parts work together.  And then looking at the whole to see if the thing is going to stand up.

I recently came across an intriguing illustration of this, in a blog I love called Invisible Paris.  The original post talks about a deceptive house—it seems to be laid open to view, but in fact is hidden away.  It links to the architects’ page, with details of the model, with a cross section of how the ground unexpectedly drops away, and how the house sits on top:

and how the finished building looks in the actual space in the world, complete with hide-and-seek lime tree:

A physical metaphor for a successful novel: deceptively open, with much hidden away.

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  1. Mom of 6 on March 9, 2011 at 4:39 pm

    I used to think that form in writing really only applied to poetry, but have come to realize that _form_ applies to many types of writing: nonfiction, essays, journalism, fiction, poetry, plays, etc. All employ the use of form as not only a means of conveying information from the author to the reader, but also to convey information itself. At its most simple, even “The white spaces on the page–the page breaks or paragraph breaks–are part of the composition. They serve as fade outs/fade ins do in films, as visual cues that we have ended one sequence and gone on to another,” says Robert L. Root, Jr., in his excellent piece called “Collage, Montage, Mosiac, Vignette, Episode, Segment.” At its most complex, the form itself repeats or underscores the underlying theme of the work, tying all of the pieces together in the same way an effective conclusion can.

    I imagine that thinking of the idea for a story and working on an initial manuscript is sort of like penciling in a dream home on a drafting table. All of the hard work of rewriting and editing that you’ve talked about is probably like entering it into an AutoCAD program and designing the foundation measurements, framing, HVAC, rough and finish plumbing, elevations, trusses, rough and finish electrical, and plat landscape design. If you’ve done it right, the house stands AND you want to live in it! Very cool idea.

  2. RussellHolmes on March 11, 2011 at 4:55 pm


  3. khewitt on March 11, 2011 at 10:41 pm

    I worked for a General Contractor for approx 20 years and the whole process of construction is an adventure! The life of the company alone as it grew from two guys building fences to 8 Million $ projects, to 5 people struggling to solve the mysteries of a series of lawsuits…. I guess I’ll have to get to work.

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