What's Happening in the Next Room?


What's Happening in the Next Room?

So much of our lives fill up the rooms of houses. Especially as our lives move increasingly to the interior, I think we'll see fewer and fewer stories about the great outdoors, and more and more about offices, dens, and TV rooms. The tradition of setting stories amid the small conflicts of drawing rooms and parlors has a long tradition, going back nearly to the origins of the novel itself. If we consider The Tale of Genji or any of the novels of Austen, even grand epics like War and Peace, we can see how important the home is in novels.

Another thing these great stories have in common is their skillful use of their interior spaces. It takes great craft to make the enclosed space of a house seem interesting; and just like a well-crafted play, great stories creatively use the on-stage and off-stage space. Moments of suspense often lead us to wonder, what's happening in the next room?

Set action one room over

Houses are funny things. We think each room is private and separate, a little secure cell all our own. But anyone who has established a knock code on the wall with a sibling or has eavesdropped on their parents having a fight knows, rooms are not discrete OR discreet. Events have a way of bleeding over from room to room, through walls, doorways, down stairwells. To add another layer of drama and intrigue to your story, don't let the fight unfold right before our eyes; let it unfold one room over. Show us the fight from the perspective of the kids listening. It reminds us of the reality of your situation, and gives us a spark of recognition. It reminds us of our own experience growing up in a house.

Think about how novels are increasingly realms of the interior, and how you can use this to enrich the story you have to tell.