• Welcome to the Fantasy Writing Forums. Register Now to join us!

City Architecture

GM4LSWC94

Scribe
Hey everyone,
I'm curious to know in what detail you may describe the architecture and style of different cities. It's relevant in my story but not vital to the plot, I really just want to paint a vivid picture without info dumping about the shape of windows or trying to explain something similar to like Japanese architecture in a fantasy where the world if filled with different races. Any pointers are appreciated, thank you!
 

pmmg

Myth Weaver
I think, out of six cities, and eight to twelve villages that have appeared in the story, I described only two in great detail. One because it was the site of a battle, the other cause it needed majesty.

I dont tend to describe very much, unless its needed. Very rare for something to get more than a paragraph. More common for just two sentences or so.

Here is one that it typical for me, with some small alterations.

The great city of Golmere sat majestically along the coast of the Sea of Nor. A low city on a restful plain, her streets swept up from the many docks, rising along the slope towards higher ground where the lone gold-tone spire that was home to the King of Nora. Not quite the port city that was Winterlight to the north, Golmere faced into the Sea of Nor, and was the last point by which lay untamed lands and untamed seas before ever coming upon any of the Western Kingdoms. Few would visit her, few of the west had the need, but she held great sway upon the sea, even if the affairs of Nora were not so much a concern to her western sisters.

But we each have our own voice. I tend to keep the descriptions down, others might add them more liberally. I am for whatever works.
 

pmmg

Myth Weaver
Oh, I should have added something about architecture.

Well...thats more tricky, cause my world is somewhat homogeneous. Many places look the same. In the north, there is more stone work, and in the west, more wood, and further south more grass huts. In the far north its mostly hide tents and the like.

But for greater details, like who has arches and who has spires, well... I've only just brought in the western areas, which have a warmer clime, and would have a much that is different. I view them as being more spread out and with buildings that dont often go beyond two floors. In the north there are spires, which are almost like cathedrals. They can rise very high.

For some reason, I like basements and cellars, but I do stop to think, would such a place have a cellar? And then I write it anyway even though I probably should not.

So, there is enough to say, this areas is quite a bit different than that one, but I did not fire off a lot of detail about it. Just one or two sentences.
 
I tend to prefer analogy - for example, here's the first description of the main city of my first novel, The Ancient Wound, called Cinura. I think contrast is also really valuable

He walked to the window and gazed out, opening the curtains a crack. He could see most of the city from his vantage point. Cinura was built into a cirque, with its southern end sloping off downwards to the sea. This meant the southern districts of the city were colder, and the richer Cinures tended to be, the further north they tended to live. In the far north district of Murkurkil, posh, shiny men like the parliamentarians and the Elderate lived luxuriously in vast villas with vaulted ceilings and servant-tended gardens.

Unlike the rest of the city, their houses were not blue, but a cold grey, all ornate and laden with silver and gold. Alrik could see them from his vantage, their grey encircling the blue city like stones around a pond.


Here's a later example highlighting the contrast idea.

Some said Cinura was first coloured blue because of the peace its founders wanted it to represent. Others said it was an offering to a Kandrii god. Some said it was chosen because the colour somehow repelled mosquitoes. In any case, the city was not a uniform colour; with differing sun damage throughout, minutely different shades of paint, and the many minds and cultures that had formed the city, no two houses were the same shade of blue. A humble cyan jutted against a deep pelagic storehouse, and many smaller buildings for various uses: coloured pale and bright, purplish, and greenish, but always blue.

Alrik used these differences to mark his journey; the houses became paler and their paint scabbier towards the outskirts of town before the colonial houses began.
 

pmmg

Myth Weaver
Some said Cinura was first coloured blue because of the peace its founders wanted it to represent. Others said it was an offering to a Kandrii god. Some said it was chosen because the colour somehow repelled mosquitoes. In any case, the city was not a uniform colour; with differing sun damage throughout, minutely different shades of paint, and the many minds and cultures that had formed the city, no two houses were the same shade of blue. A humble cyan jutted against a deep pelagic storehouse, and many smaller buildings for various uses: coloured pale and bright, purplish, and greenish, but always blue.

See, this I would not do, as none of my characters would know why it was partially blue, or had any thoughts about mosquitoes. Those that would, would not likely bring it up. For me, this would be stuff that there may be a reason for, but there would be no character driven reason to expose it.
 
See, this I would not do, as none of my characters would know why it was partially blue, or had any thoughts about mosquitoes. Those that would, would not likely bring it up. For me, this would be stuff that there may be a reason for, but there would be no character driven reason to expose it.
I see. In this case, this is all common knowledge in the city - or common theories, anyhow. The POV character here, Alrik, is also very inquisitive and knows the city like the back of his hand, so these overarching patterns are things that he'd observe while moving through it.
 

pmmg

Myth Weaver
Its a different focus. Such thing might be common knowledge, or there might be things that are common knowledge, but my POV characters have no reason to dwell on them. The scenes, and perspectives do not lend themselves to putting in detail the characters are not considering, so a lot of it gets left out.

The character may find a ruined tower in a scarred land, and they probably think it is left over from some ancient time or battle. Maybe a character knows that it was actually from a garrison force where the humans patrolled the lands before the orcs invaded and took it back, and that the symbol on the wall might indicate it was from the time of the order of garter knights, and that it was made extra thick, because of the ogres that could break stone at that time. But they would not ask that. It would be more like, its getting dark, and its raining...Oh look a tower, though somewhat beat up. Still better than the outside. Lets stay there. Whose tower was it? Dont care, is it abandoned? Yep, found a place to stay.
 
I would say that all writers are drawn to different definable features - for me, it’s the windows of a building. I think that windows are the eyes to the soul of any building, so I like to use this particular feature to describe architecture. Windows can also be used internally as well as externally. What can you see from a window? How does it make the architecture feel? And the substance it’s made from usually too, stone / brick / wood. What style is it in? Gothic / Ancient / Modern
 

skip.knox

toujours gai, archie
Moderator
I see, it gives just enough to let your reader paint their own picture.
Its the "just enough" that's the kicker. How much is that? Which loops us right back to the op.

My only practical advice is this: multiple passes. Pick out an aspect or two here. Move along. In another scene, add details. Move along. Another scene, more details. The more important the setting, the more scene will be set there, and so naturally will be described in greater detail.
 

Jason

Scribe
I'm one for opening chapters with descriptive passages to set the scene. So, if a new-style city was encountered mid-chapter then fewer words than if at the beginning. Of course, fewer words to paint the same picture is what we're all aiming for but I think (hope) embellishment at the start of a chapter is generally acceptable.
 

Mad Swede

Auror
It's like the way you describe people whom your characters meet. What do they see, what do they notice? If they're new in a place but they're with someone they know, do they ask about the place? If so, what do they ask about? I would always build it up gradually, as the characters move around the city and interact with others. what does the market look like, where is the best butcher located?
 

R. R. Hunter

Troubadour
It's like the way you describe people whom your characters meet. What do they see, what do they notice? If they're new in a place but they're with someone they know, do they ask about the place? If so, what do they ask about? I would always build it up gradually, as the characters move around the city and interact with others. what does the market look like, where is the best butcher located?
This would fall into character voice, in my opinion. If the POV is from a master builder, perhaps he notices the finely crafted stonework of the local tavern. If the POV is a starving slave, perhaps they notice the quantity of (free) people walking around and all of the delicious food vendors.

I had written about a 4-paragraph description of a city, explaining all the ins and outs and histories behind the structures. It was fine the first time I wrote it, but the more I looked at it, the more I wanted to change it. The key word there is "I". It all depends on the writer's style and preferences. The way I changed it was having the POV take a stroll around the city and hit all the important landmarks, but more importantly, how each one is important to him (not just the plot).
 

Demesnedenoir

Myth Weaver
Mine vary all over the place by need or desire, but mostly by how important the location. I try to keep the architecture to a minimum because to really get the feel can get overblown. I also change up styles from feel to plain description to tactical advantages to wealth... An example would be:


“People work hard to make beauty of their ugliness, same goes for their cities.”

Vitolêô was a lady in her finest dress and dabbed with the finest paints to accent her beauty, making it easy to believe she would meet out kindness and justice for a woman wronged. Tan buildings with roofs of orange clay stood as the flowers of civilization’s garden in irregular rows, and the Cathedral of Ermûñô Tebedêz with its flying buttresses, along with the Citadel of Netelu Dullûs with its Tower of the Moon, drew the eye with their grandeur. And beneath the Tower of the Moon, a dank prison where prisoners sometimes drowned during high tide; all stories stirred in her memories of this place spoke of beheadings, hangings, and torture, and it cast a pall over her hope for fair treatment.
 

Righmath

Troubadour
Hey everyone,
I'm curious to know in what detail you may describe the architecture and style of different cities. It's relevant in my story but not vital to the plot, I really just want to paint a vivid picture without info dumping about the shape of windows or trying to explain something similar to like Japanese architecture in a fantasy where the world if filled with different races. Any pointers are appreciated, thank you!
My writing work focuses a lot around the details of buildings and their condition, and therefor their architecture. When the scene starts in a different city, it's usually what i delve straight in to. But also my day job is working with buildings, so that might be why.
 

Miles Lacey

Maester
Port Hunahia was a strictly working class town built on the hills behind the port itself. It was, by all accounts, an ugly town made up of virtually identical wooden cottages with huge sloping roofs to cope with the frequent tropical rain storms that hit the island. Its roads were little more than paved lanes that kept apart the rows of cottages. In contrast, its main road was a four lane road.

What passed as a town centre comprised of a handful of hotels, some shops and an assortment of movie houses, opium dens, night clubs and bars that lined both sides of the main road where ship crews came to indulge in what was euphemistically called "rest and recreation". Brightly coloured neon signs advertised what "entertainments" were on offer.

Only the Hiero no Pene provided some relief to the blandness of its buildings and the almost nauseating glare of bright neon signs. It was the one building open to the public that Maya Poneke had never set foot in so it came as a shock to everyone in town when the gods gifted her with the magical arts.


The story is told by a minor character known simply as the Writer. The description above is how I began Chapter One of my story and introduced my main character.
 
Top