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Writing is Like Building a House

by Matt Browning on July 28, 2013

in Writing Process

I’ve come to the conclusion that my writing process is akin to homebuilding.

I just finished a solid draft of Blades of Grass and am prepping it to send off to Steve, agent extraordinaire. By prepping, I mean rereading and revising after my friend (and Nitpicky Reader) Atish submitted his notes on the manuscript. This latest draft was written while I was in the process of selling one home and moving into another, so indulge me through this metaphor.

As I review the novel I’m realizing how similar writing and real estate are for me. I begin by outlining the major plot points of the book (the blueprints) and then write toward them, moving my characters from scene to scene, sequence to sequence and chapter to chapter in pursuit of that next plot point. With Blades of Grass, I knew where I needed these two people to end up, so I wrote until they got there.

It isn’t until I reach the end of a novel that I realize I tend to gloss over the details – the internal motivations and emotions that propel my characters through these scenes. While these things are in my head, I neglect to ensure they’re getting onto the page. I build a solid foundation, put up walls, throw in some windows, maybe even slap on a little paint and a shiny new roof. But the interior is empty. The house isn’t move-in ready because it hasn’t been decorated yet.

Okay, calling it “empty” might be pushing the metaphor a bit far. It’s a pretty good book, if I do say so myself. The point is, I get so caught up in building the structure that I miss the decoration – the details that really bring the story to life, or make the house a home, as it were.

I did this with my last book as well. Atish’s notes on both projects were quite similar – "more detail here…show me why he’s having this reaction there…make me feel his pain here…his happiness there." Maybe it’s just how I write and there’s nothing wrong with it. Or maybe I should attempt to fully decorate the rooms as I build them. Or maybe there’s no wrong or right way.

I’d love to know how some other writers handle this. Do you find yourself going back after you complete a draft to flesh out your characters’ motivations and feelings and reactions, or are you pretty good at translating that from your head to the page as you progress?

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

David James July 29, 2013 at 2:12 pm

Great post, Matt! I completely agree – and I wrote a blog response to it on my own site. Check it out! 🙂


Matthew Aaron Browning July 29, 2013 at 2:36 pm

Love it, David! This was my favorite line in your post:

Writing is like seeing a picture of a place you've never visited before and wondering what it would be like to go there.

It makes me think about world building in my writing – a perfect post for another day 🙂


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