I’m a visual writer: I watch a scene play out in my head before I write it. And I’m also a little far-sighted and most of my characters have fuzzy faces.
What I can see in detail, however, are floor plans. I may not be able to see the art on a character’s bedroom wall, but I always know where the closets and bathrooms are. When the scene plays out in my head, it’s not on a green screen with TBD background. All my scenes have sets: four walls, windows, doors, furniture.
I don’t write descriptions of the floor plans (no one would care…or worse, they’d fall asleep), but it’s important for me to know where a character is walking. Having a completely built set helps keep consistency when I visualize scenes. It keeps characters’ actions real and believable.
The back door always leads to the garden, rather than the driveway in one scene and the garden in another.
If a character always paces in his bedroom and I know he’s pacing from the closet to the window, I know that what he sees may change his actions. Perhaps he can see that someone is approaching the house or that someone’s stolen his shoes. It could help with set up for later, a transition to the next scene or pacing the scene in my head.
Some sets are created entirely by my mind, others are cobbled together from places I’ve been but most are complete rip offs of places I’ve been. Julia, for examples, lives in an apartment I used to live in and she grew up in a house my parents used to own. Julia’s cousin lives in an apartment that one of my friends used to rent.
I have trouble working with sets that are created in my mind. Moving around in their space is more awkward. I’ve actually sketched out a mind-created set and found that it was such an odd configuration of rooms that it would never have been built. Did that matter to the story? No, but it did mean that my character spent a lot less time in his apartment because I couldn’t see it properly.
So far, every set my characters have inhabited have been different. I wonder what will happen if (when?) I run out of new places for them to be. Can Julia and some future character really live in the same apartment? Would the rooms feel like they’re haunted? Will I just have to get better at mixing and matching real places or creating new ones?
How important is it for you to know the space your characters are living in? Do you always have a specific place in mind or are you comfortable with scenes playing out with no particular set in mind?
Or, flip that, how important is it for you as a reader to know the layout of the locations?