Extended Architects

This is the sunset from the same night as the Wolf Moon rising photos. Really good show that night. The cast hit every note perfectly.

One of my writing friends and fellow Word-Whore, Laura Bickle, attended a panel last night. She was invited to a university, along with a “literary” writer and an art-gallery owner, to discuss Making Money from Art. Laura was described in the publicity materials as a pulp-fiction writer.

Been a while since you heard that term, too?

She says she didn’t mind, but the term is really a slam. It derives from the days when certain, more disposable stories, were printed on cheap, pulp paper. Not like the good stuff you’d want to put in a library. If you’ve ever been to a discussion like this in an academic setting, then you’ll know how the conversation went. The literary writer had one book to his name, but he’d clung to his Vision. Laura has published four urban fantasy books with Penguin in the last nine months, in two different series.

The art-gallery owner was gracious to her and even suggested a collaborative with a fantasy art show and Laura’s books. Of course, a woman like that knows something about selling art, or she wouldn’t be in business.

At any rate, afterwards, Laura and I discussed Vision. She said she’d learned something, a glimpse in the mirror we both shared. As writers, we sometimes let our Vision get in the way of delivering what the reader wants.

I ended up dragging out my new extended architect analogy.

I know: you can’t wait.

Things Writers Can Learn from Architects

1) An architect can have a Vision, but people have to be able to use the building. Don’t let your writer’s Vision be more important than engaging the reader. Without people to occupy it, a building has no purpose.

2) An architect can design anything they like, but they are bound by the laws of physics. There must be a foundation and bearing walls. They can’t just throw in a window in any old spot. Stories have traditional structures for a reason – kind of the physics of the imagination.

3) Originality is great, but if an architect puts the master bedroom next to the front entrance, no one will want the house. People expect certain things in a home, based on how people like to live. They also expect certain things from a story. You can have lovely twists and surprises, but don’t turn it so upside-down that they’re miserable being there.

4) Architects start with a dream and turn it into a solid reality. So do writers. Our readers occupy our realities. Make those worlds places they want to be.

5) Architects make a living from their work. This means putting as much fervor and art into designing a warehouse as a skyscraper. Not all jobs are big jobs. If you want to make a living at it, get good at designing warehouses, too. No newbie architect gets handed a skyscraper right off the bat. Don’t disdain the warehouse jobs.

6) Now, if an architect doesn’t care about making a living – say, if she works as a lawyer for her day job and designs buildings two hours before work every morning – then she can design all the skyscrapers she pleases, however she wishes. Whether someone invests in building them is another thing altogether.

7) If an architect sets out to design a house, they don’t add on skyscraper and warehouse elements. Writers should know what they want their story to be. It doesn’t have to be everything.

Seeing as how this is my new favorite analogy, I could go on forever. I’m also guilty of all these sins. But it helps me to think of how architects work. Yes, all houses are essentially the same. They all have the same elements, the same general lay-out, but within that pattern is an infinite array of ways that houses have unique, gracious and vibrant charm.

Sure, I fantasize about building a landmark skyscraper, one that defines the skyline of a city. Nothing wrong with a little beach cottage though. Simple. Straightforward.

So, what did I miss – any other architect analogies you all would like to add?

12 Replies to “Extended Architects”

  1. I LOVE this analogy. Especially: "Writers should know what they want their story to be. It doesn't have to be everything."

    So very true.

  2. Gah. I wish I could have been there to ask some questions of the "literary" writer. I would so much rather write a bunch of books that get out to real readers, than just one or two "visionary" books that almost no one reads. It's like that "If a tree falls in the woods" thing. If a book has no readers…

  3. Yeah…I'm especially guilty of that. Oh! How about a deck? And an enclosed courtyard? Plus a ten-story atrium!! Whoa, Nelly…

  4. Excellent analogy! Makes me think of a fun house. Sure, it looks like a typical building on the outside, but on the inside? It's all mayhem and mystification!

    Sort of a warning to not judge a book by its cover…

  5. Whenever I think of architects with VISION! I think of things like the recent addition to the Denver Art Museum and the Kimmel Center in Philadelphia. Both are VISIONARY!, but I find the former a bit like an automobile wreck, with all its jagged edges, and the latter a bit like a very big train station. Both involve wild impracticalities and a crap-ton of useless space. Yay, vision!

    Anyway, only a few people in any given generation can stick to their "vision" and still find commercial and critical success. Most literary "visionaries" will languish in obscurity.

    Screw that. I want some cash.


  6. This was a great post, Jeffe. I love the architect analogy. Maybe you could add that an architect doesn't just wake up one day and start designing houses, that they spend time learning about their career, getting to know about what's involved in a job from start to finish. Writing is great, but you have to learn about the craft and industry before you can take off to that NYT bestsellers list.

  7. Thanks Patty – I love that image. The fun house is full of mayhem and mystification, but it still has a solid structure and can't collapse on people.

    Simon – those are great examples. Being a Denver girl from way back, I remember the furor over the art museum addition. Does it make a dramatic statement? Sure. And, right, only an architect at the pinnacle of their career gets to do something that insanely off the charts. It's the point of the endeavor.

    Thanks Sondrae! Given that this is my new pet analogy, I'm sure I'll be trotting out more. 😉

  8. Terrific addition, Danica. Just because writers don't have to study civil engineering and mechanical drawing doesn't mean that we get to skip the fundamentals.

  9. Oh dear. Perfect timing, this post. I was just exchanging emails with Jeffe this morning about this very thing. Looking at revising a manuscript, and that maybe I am finally ready to sacrifice the "vision" (I never used that term, but it's spot on) in exchange for producing a book that people will read. I am very, very guilty of the VISION problem. Sigh.

  10. The pre-plotters in your midst might point out that no-one breaks ground on the actual building until the blueprint is complete and stable.

  11. So funny, Kerry, I was in the midst of writing this post when you emailed me. I almost told you to look at this. Then I figured if you were meant to, you would. I guess that's our sign!

    Kev, those pre-plotters know better than to hang around *this* blog.

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