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Describing a character's room

Discussion in 'Writing Discussions' started by Devouring Wolf, Nov 10, 2015.

  1. Devouring Wolf

    Devouring Wolf Troubadour

    I usually don't have a problem writing settings, but for some reason whenever I have to describe one of my character's rooms, I just have trouble visualizing it.

    My character's are well fleshed out, complex individuals, and I can say with a good deal of certainty that the problem isn't that I don't know them well enough. Maybe because a character's room is their own and they can fill it with whatever they like, it seems a bit daunting to me. Maybe it's because I've never had my own room, I don't know.

    Anyways does anyone have any tips for describing a characters room, especially when your character is a noble and has servants who clean up after him (one of my characters likes to party quite a lot but since he has servants to clean for him, his room wouldn't really reflect that so I can't reflect his inner chaos by making his room chaotic)
  2. Heliotrope

    Heliotrope Staff Article Team

    So then make it so that his servants don't clean up after him. That's the luxury about being the author. You can change the scene…

    Maybe he comes home after a night out and surveys the room. Clothes still litter the floor. The lamps haven't been lit, but a small coal fire still burns in the large fireplace. The breakfast tray still has remnants of sausage (he hates sausage) and cold coffee (he was too hung over to finish it)… damn that Martha. She has been so lazy lately now that she has started meeting up with Tony the stable boy behind the horse stalls. He will have to deal with her later. Now he is just too damn tired. He undresses (leaving his clothes in a heap beside the bed) and crawls under the unmade linen sheets that still smell faintly like the sweat of the serving girl he shared it with last night…. He considers calling her back up… Oh wait.. who was that serving girl? Maybe it was Martha?….

    Hmmmm, well based on what happened last night things are starting to make a bit more sense… Martha's probably half way to Westeros by now. He only meant to scare her a little bit. He thought it was funny. Women are so testy about these things.

    Last edited: Nov 10, 2015
    FifthView likes this.
  3. FifthView

    FifthView Istar

    Think about the things that differentiate your character from other characters—traits, passions, habits, hangups, employment, etc.—and then stock the room with items that help to suggest these things.

    For instance, if your character likes to go on hunts, he might have a crossbow, a spear, a stag's antlers, and so forth.

    If he is vain, he might have a couple large mirrors, perhaps even a vanity with boxes of jewelry, various fragrances, scarves and a large wardrobe (or two) overstuffed with clothing.

    If he is very religious, he might have a small shrine or artwork like paintings or tapestries displaying religious scenes.

    There's really no point to bothering with excessive descriptive exposition if what you are describing doesn't add somewhat to the milieu and/or character development or play an eventual role in the plot. So if you can't find a way to do those things, perhaps you don't need to worry overmuch about describing that room.
    Last edited: Nov 10, 2015
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  4. Heliotrope

    Heliotrope Staff Article Team


    Simon enters the great hall of his quarters and surveys the scene. Good, everything is still exactly where he left it. He has forbidden the servants to enter the hall unless there has been a catastrophe, like a fire, or a flood, or an infestation of vermin (though in his household that would never be allowed to happen.) The cross bow and the arrows are meticulously arranged on the mantle, with the arrows exactly a half inch apart on the rack. (He measured them just last night to be sure, you never can be sure about the dusting woman).

    His evening meals awaits on the hearth. The boiled peas and corn in separate containers, as per his request. If they even touch each other on the plate his stomach roils and he will refuse to eat them.

  5. FifthView

    FifthView Istar

    @Heliotrope: When I wrote, "habits, hangups" precisely that type of character entered my mind! Better watch out, psychic seepage is happening. :cool:
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  6. Penpilot

    Penpilot Staff Article Team

    What are you trying to show the reader with your description? What do the things in their room reveal about your character?

    Having a bookshelf full of the Twilight books vs a shelf full of Ray Bradbury hints at two different things. Messy room vs clean room. Picture of Jesus over the bed vs. a poster of a big-ass anarchy symbol.
  7. Velka

    Velka Sage

    You can use the 'clean up crew' as a great way to show the inner chaos! Your character enters and sees everything is neat and orderly, but in his mind compares what he sees now to what was there last night:

    - Wonders how they got the blood stains out of his sheets, or maybe they just burned them and put new ones on.
    - Notices the mirror he punched and smashed last night has been taken away, but not replaced, and the wallpaper is more vibrant in the empty space. Sees a small shard of mirror sticking up between the floorboards that they missed.
    - Changes into his dressing gown (nicely hung on a hook) and puts his hand in the pocket to find the intimates of a woman he slept with last night.

    All these things mirror how everything looks ordered and fine on the outside, but really it's just a veneer for the crazy on the inside.
  8. T.Allen.Smith

    T.Allen.Smith Staff Moderator

    Concrete, specific details are usually better than vague mentions when it comes to description. Unless, of course, the goal is brevity.

    For example, why describe a bed at all if it's going to be presented in a vague manner? The type of bed one finds in a room may say a great deal about the occupant. A four-post bed draped with sheer fabrics sends quite a different message than a bed rough-hewn from oak logs and covered with a mat of loose straw. A green blanket probably offers little to nothing, where a heaping mound of silk-covered pillows may.

    The key in any powerful description is looking for ways your descriptions do more than merely describe.
  9. Brian G Turner

    Brian G Turner Scribe

    The room should be filled with things that have emotional meaning and purpose for the character. I know you say you understand your characters, but perhaps you are missing elements like this from your understanding of them?
  10. Xitra_Blud

    Xitra_Blud Sage

    Look up rooms on google image that you think your characters my like (ex. fantasy rooms, gothic room, etc.) and try to describe what you see in the image.

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