Unlikely Sources of Writing Inspiration: Architecture Edition

In both fiction and nonfiction, setting is a crucially important ingredient, touching everything from proper characterization to motif to plain old plot. But if HGTV and House Hunters have taught us anything, it’s that people aren’t very good at visualizing the potential in an otherwise empty or misappointed space. Including the ones inside their own heads.

Stuck here? Let me help.

Get familiar with architectural terms.

It’s not good enough to describe something in vague terms. It’s not a “small roof overhanging the front door,” it’s a portico. There are differences, regional ones, between decks, porches and verandas.

The University of Oregon has a handy architectural terms reference list. Bookmark it for the next time you want to know the difference between a corbel and a cupola.


Go regional.

Not that I’m biased (I am), but New England is home to some of the most distinctive and classic architecture in the United States. The depth of design present in our rock walls, fiery fall maples, colonial squares and church steeples are only rivaled by small pockets in the American South, in places like New Orleans and Charleston. For some easy, Yankee-flavored architectural inspiration, check out Connecticut Cottages & Gardens. CTC&G will also teach you some handy architectural terms, like the meaning of the aforementioned cupola.


Pin it down.

For easy setting ideas (need to describe a baby’s room? How about a horse barn? An outdoor party? A lavish pool and garden?), turn to Pinterest.

Yeah, I said it.

In case you haven’t been on Pinterest lately, its search function offers a cool new feature that lets you add on related terms to your searches. For example, if you search nursery, you can narrow your search by color, gender of the baby, or size of the room. And while this may at first glance seem only of interest to overeager expectant moms, you can take advantage of these easy, out-of-the-box set pieces for your novel.


What’s your source of info and inspiration for buildings and rooms? Do you know what a lintel is? Share your comments.