Monday, March 9, 2015

Starting On The Ground Floor

A while back I did a post here on my love of the-map-in-the-front-of-the-book, and my own mapping habits while writing. And much in the same way that Winnie-the-Pooh books inspired me to map, I can credit Dame Agatha Christie for one of my other odd habits: the drawing of floor plans.

I think I own every book Agatha Christie wrote, and I loved when she put in the floor plans of houses to show us what rooms were where, and how impossible it was for anyone to have committed the murder in question.

My own stories didn’t really call for such elaborate measures, but the more I wrote the more I saw the advantage of using a floor plan as a writing tool. As clearly as I saw some scenes and settings in my mind, I could get turned around sometimes, so I got into the habit of sketching out rough plans of houses my characters lived in. Just a few lines on a page, really, so I didn’t have someone walking into a cupboard when they were supposed to be in the kitchen.

In the photo above you can see, on the right, the rough floor plan of Greywethers I drew when I started work on Mariana, back in 1990. 

I’ve done this for all my books since. Like my maps, these are just for myself, to refer to while writing (although I included a floor plan in Season of Storms, because that house was like an insane warren—as you can see from the picture here—and I knew readers would have a hard time keeping track of the rooms).

Nearly all the houses that I’ve set my books in have actually existed. Sometimes, as in the case of “Crofton Hall” in Mariana—Avebury Manor in real life—the floor plans already exist, and a very nice person at the National Trust will send them to you. And sometimes you have to create them. 

Either way, I begin with photographs. If I can get inside, I sketch the layout of the rooms, keeping in mind I may have to change things around a bit for my own story. If I can't get inside, I do an internet hunt for similar houses of the period and look for floor plans, then cobble those together to make my own.

I’ve done a bit of both for the other floor plan at the top of this post, on the left, which is for the new book I’m now working on: Bellewether. The house I’m using for this book is based on Raynham Hall, a museum on Long Island, and after visiting the house and taking photographs and notes, I went online to search for other saltbox houses of the period to find out how to put the central chimney stack where it would be (Raynham Hall lost its chimney to a Victorian makeover, which also rearranged the entrance hall).

The result is a floor plan that perfectly fits what I need for my story. Not only does it give me a visual reference for the movements of my characters, but it shows me where the windows are and when the sun comes in, and what view would be.

If nothing else, my floor plans give me something I can work on when the words are slow in coming, so I can fool myself into thinking I’m being productive.

What’s your opinion of floor plans in novels? Have you ever done one yourself?


  1. Yes! Maps are a great addition to novels. Settings of geography and floor plans of buildings provide a graphic for readers. Wish more authors would include a location map or floor plan. :)

  2. I love the maps! It really comes in handy when you get completely immersed in a novel as I tend to. Looking at the map can make it clear where you "are" and enhance the visualization.