Places as Characters Part I: Coudenberg Palace
Part of the process of writing my second novel has been to find different pictures or images that are similar to what I have in mind for different settings or locations. Places are important as they deserve to be treated as characters. They have a life and history of their own. What they look like, how they smell, and how a character feels when they are in that space are all key components to creating multilayered scenes that help keep the reader engaged and invested in the story.
I’ve already posted a spoiler about one of the settings of book 2. While I’ve actually scaled it back from a maximum security prison to a ‘regular’ prison, the picture I posted went a long way in providing inspiration.
What I was stuck on, is what I call, ‘The Basement’.
One of my characters spends a good chunk of his time in this area of the jail. Yet every time I sat down to work on these scenes, I couldn’t quite picture what his surroundings looked like. As you can imagine, my writing in these chapters fell pretty flat. There was no depth, or richness to the writing, and my beta readers could tell.
“Crystal. Description. Please.”
I decided to kill two birds with one stone during my recent vacation by finding a few locations that I could use as a reference. One of these places was the archaeological site of Coudenberg Palace, the former palace of Brussels.
To give you a bit of context, Coudenberg Palace dates back to the 12th century, where it slowly evolved from a defensive castle to a glorious residence for Charles V. In 1731 it was destroyed in a fire. The ruin was largely ignored until 1770, when the entire court district was redeveloped. The remains of this grand building were pushed in on itself, and Palace Royale, which is still there today, was built right on top.
The site is massive, spanning several city blocks. The largest area that is still very much intact is the wine cellars. There are other sections where bits of the floor from the room above fell straight into the room below, and the beautiful tile work is still preserved. One of the medieval cobble stone roads, Rue Isabelle, still exists, except it is now completely underground.
Even though we were in the cellars of the palace, I could easily imagine myself in “The Basement”.
I could visualize iron doors slamming shut in the doorways I walked through.
Through a slit in the stone ceiling, I caught a sliver of blue sky, but it was impossible to reach.
A sharp musty scent, combined with years of trapped dust made the air thick and heavy. It was like trying to breathe with a weight on my chest.
I made notes, I made a few recordings, and I took about five hundred pictures.
I loved every minute of it.
While I am still working on editing, ‘The Basement” chapters, this experience was incredibly valuable to me as a writer. It helped bring into focus some of what I was vaguely seeing in my head. As I stated at the beginning of this post, places are characters too. If they aren’t fully realized, the story won’t feel as complete, nor will it shine as bright.
If you enjoyed reading this post, then make sure you come back in two weeks for part two of this three part series, Places as Characters II: The Tate.
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