Shopping for Houses When You Write

Spanish_HomeMy father and my uncles worked together to help each other build their houses. It’s too long ago to remember the details, but I recall each of them being skilled at one particular thing, and all of them able to do a little bit of everything.

I was three years old when Dad built our house, so I don’t have memories of the construction, but I do remember years later when my uncle built a duplex next door to us. The framework was up, and there were planks over cement block footers until the stoops were poured.

One day I angered my brother, and the chase was on. I was running to find Dad to save me, and I jumped onto the boards over one of the holes. The next thing I knew, I was bleeding in the basement. Once Dad knew I hadn’t broken anything in the fall, I got a whippin’ for the disruption to the work process. Ahhh … good memories.

But the best thing about those men building houses was the books. The books with drawings of houses and their floor plans. I spent hours poring over those books and dreaming about the house I would one day live in.

I still love floor plans, and I use them when I write.

When writing Windy City Hunter, I looked at condo floor plans before settling on one from a building I stayed in when visiting the city.

For my new book, Murder Under Construction, I chose a simple two-story home for my main character. I copied the floor plan and added my own information. It was a big help when I needed to reference direction, and it also helped me to remember what I had already written about the house.

Floor_Plan_MUCFor the book I’m writing now, I’ve been searching for Spanish-style homes. Floor plans are certainly more attractive than they were years ago.


I find it helps quite a bit to have actual houses and floor plans when I’m writing. It’s easier to envision my characters moving around in their homes. I’ve even printed hotel room layouts when my characters have stayed in hotels.

I’ve always used calendars, timelines, and maps when planning my books, but until I was searching for floor plans again, I didn’t realize how much I rely on them.

What about you? Do you make up your houses and floor plans in your head? Or do you go shopping for houses as I do?

65 thoughts on “Shopping for Houses When You Write

  1. To be honest, most of my characters don’t spend too much time in their houses. I won’t typically do too much research, I’ll generally just see a design or floorplan in my head and run with it. I don’t honestly know where they come from, but I can picture them all in my head without having to look them up. Then again I have noticed a few houses looking oddly like houses I’m already familiar with, so that could very well be it.

    • Hi Daniel! I think most people probably do go by what they have in their minds. I suppose it is my love of floor plans that sends me to them when I write. Nice to see you again! I see you have a new post up; I’ll be over shortly to read. 🙂

      • I think I’m a fan or the architecture and stuff. Fancy photos and that sorta thing. I haven’t tried the whole floor plan thing, but I can see how that’d be beneficial! I should probably do something of the sort for future books where people actually spend time indoors…

        I have been away for a bit, but hopefully I can start being around more often. Glad to see you’re still around!

  2. Before we got our first home in our 30s, my husband and I spent our 20s looking at floor plans in magazines, dreaming of finally having our own place. Your post took me back there. It was so exciting to have something to plan for. I love exploring houses, especially new ones in Parade of Homes or old ones in historic home parades. One of my favorite things to do. But I’ve never thought to use a floor plan to help with my fiction. It makes good sense. Thanks for the great idea!

    • I thought of you shortly after I posted this. I wondered if you *saw* a hospital you were familiar with when you wrote, or if it was just a general sense.

      I’m glad I could conjure up some good memories for you. When we homeschooled, we toured a lot of historic homes and buildings. I still love going through homes.

      • I based my hospital on my memory of the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics where I did my residency training. Except for the old part of the hospital that was being refurbished. That came from my imagination. 🙂

  3. Very nice, informative post; a true ‘Building Blocks’ story (could not resist a chance to advertise and make a pun 🙂 )

    • l always look at houses when l wrlte. Sometlmes l flnd them when l’m out and about, and sometlmes ln magazlnes or books. l found the hero’s house for “Temptlng Jonah” (my flrst book … now out of pr;nt) ln a book about Vlctorlan homes … For “Mr. Short, Dark…& Funny, l needed a ranch house, and found one close to where l had the hero llvlng.

      • I have to admit, it’s a lot of fun researching houses. Victorian homes would be so much fun. I once looked for a dress for Susan, and the one I found was taken on location in Tuscany. I spent an hour shopping for homes in Tuscany after that!! 🙂

  4. Isn’t it funny what material we dredge up from our childhoods when we write? I leave blueprints and construction out since I grew up living in homes that were constantly being remodeled. (I will never live in a fixer-upper.) But I do go back to the games my brother and I used to make up. Those memories find themselves in my writing.

    • You are smart! We live in a fixer-upper, and it has been one headache after another. The house is over 100 years old, and I think some of the wiring and plumbing is original. But yes, games and memories from childhood find their way into my writing, too. I referenced Jarts in my last book. 🙂

  5. This doesn’t surprise me, Maddie. I figured you had to be super-organized and logical to get as much done as you do.

    I do use timelines and flowcharts, trying to tie things together. Floor plans? Sounds like a great idea.

  6. I never thought to use blueprints. Smart lady! I’m so much a pantser though, or just undisciplined that I make notes as I go. I let it just come. I have a huge cork board up in my office that I use to pin my notes too. No one would know what the heck they are but me. Plus I write the notes in ‘Jackiehand’, my version of shorthand. 🙂
    But I love the idea of using floor plans like that. I love old houses. The older the better.

    • I knew you would like old houses, and I would like to see that ‘Jackiehand’ some day. 😉 For the most part, I’m a true pantster. I don’t do much research before writing, and I’ve never outlined, but when I get to a point in my book where I need something, I stop and go get it. However, I am reading these books in preparation for NaNo this year: How Do Private Eyes Do That? -and- Secrets of a Real-Life Female Private Eye -and- How to Write A Dick – all by Colleen Collins. Other than that, I have a bare-bones outline for the book and will just start writing and see where it goes. We’re going to have fun. 🙂

      • Oh yeah we are going to have fun. I’m like that in research also. If I get to a point that I need to research, I stop writing and look things up! Now you have some interesting reading there my friend. 🙂

          • l’m readlng the last two books you mentloned, too, for my humorous baseball murder mystery/romance serles. But l thlnk my hero may have already done somethlng wrong as a Pl. (l’m worklng on thls and another book for NaNoWrtMo).

    • I’ve done that for secondary locations – pictured something in my mind that I’ve seen or know I would like. With my most recent book, I took it a step further and printed out a map of a small town and used it as a guide for the fictitious town in my book. I like having hands-on visuals to help me.

  7. I like that idea. I went to school for Architecture, never finished, but someday hope to. I was the only girl in my Construction class back then. I still have all the floor plans I have had to do for class. It’s too bad my high school one is so large I could scan it in. It was quite the house. lol. I had bathroom sinks in every bedroom because I didn’t want girls to be without one, I had a pool, hot tub, basketball court and oh so many windows. LOL. All the needed things. 🙂 I love looking at drawings. It’s cool the computer programs that do the work now days, but still love the drafting part of it. I still have my drafting table and supplies. My table is now my art table. LOL…It definitely is important to have the details down in a book, so I think it is a great idea to do. 🙂 Pictures work for me too. 🙂 My hubby is currently putting a top addition to our house back in my hometown, it was meant to be a surprise, but when I saw the amount he was spending, I had to ruin the surprise and ask what was going on. OOPs. Just can’t hide that. I am anxious to see it. I asked if he was taking pictures at least, so I hope so. 🙂 He did it to fix a leak we had with the roof line and the only way was to redo it, cause everything else failed. He justified adding an extra room. 🙂 I can only imagine the mess he has going on. I am usually the clean up lady. lol

    • That is so cool that you went to school for Architecture – and took a construction class. I’m slightly envious. A sink in every bedroom is a good idea, too. 🙂 You husband is a smart man to add another addition of fix a leak. I bet it will be wonderful! Yes, hopefully he is taking pictures!

  8. That’s so neat. I wondered how you described from area to area so visually. I see now this is how you did it.

    I do outlines every now & again, but sometimes the work just flows out of me. It’s a lot like my artwork. I can’t turn it on or off, though. I can only write when I know it’s time. That’s always how it’s been for me. Sometimes emotions help, and other times they get in the way & cause writer’s block. Strange process it all is. (I wouldn’t trade it for the world, though!)

    • You are up late, too. 😉

      When I wanted to remember a city, I used Google street view. That’s how I wrote my New York book – by retracing my steps all over the city. I love Google street view.

      Even though you are writing in a genre that scares the snot out of me, I’m looking forward to reading your work; you’re so creative.

      I was at my mother’s for a big part of the day, and I didn’t get my mail until late this evening. My cards came today! They are absolutely lovely and just as nice as I hoped they would be. The cardstock is heavy and not “cheap” at all. I love them and can’t wait to use them!

      • You’re creative too! Google Earth has so many wonderful uses. I think that’s really neat that you use it to map out your storyline settings. I’m still in awe.

        As for horror, I think you’ll like the one I’m working on. It’s more psychological horror than anything else. No real bloody, gory stuff. Just more “fear of the unknown” type of thing. I really pray I can finish before the year is out. There have just been a lot of unexpected changes in schedule lately.

        I’m glad the cards were as great as they should be! I hope to start working on more for the upcoming holidays!

  9. I’ve never drawn one but the places are definitely clear in my head. I should draw them, I know people that spend weeks on their maps and plans.
    We should all learn from Dr Frankenstein and plan a head.

  10. I think all of us have an ideal house in our head, so as we shop, we’ll know it when we see it.

    Interesting how your love for looking at plans carried with you into your authoring!

    • The house we are in now was never on my list of dream houses, but I do enjoy the character and charm an old house with two staircases offers.

      Yes, it’s fun to still use plans while I write. Just last night, I downloaded and printed a floor plan of an RV for the book I’m currently writing. Of course, I had to spend an hour or more shopping online for one I liked. 🙂

  11. Maddie I’m always impressed all the work you put into writing these books. I wish I had your energy, I would be the first in line if you could bottle and sell some of that energy LOL 🙂

    • This isn’t really energy. I sit in a chair all day. 😉 Before your knees gave you fits, YOU had the energy! All that gardening and moving rocks around … phew! You put the young folks to shame 🙂

  12. I love looking at floor plans. Your characters are living in some fancy digs!
    When we built our retirement home, we spent hours looking at plans. Then we drew our own by combining some plans we liked. It’s just a very teeny tiny, wee, unassuming, modest little 3 bedroom, but it is just the way we like it. So glad there is not much to clean. 🙂

    • And may I say mixedupmeme does not spend much time cleaning up. Right now she is reading the first Susan Hunter novel…a chapter each day. She told you that reading on the computer is a bit hard on the eyes. So I am going to help her. She will read a chapter one day and I will read a chapter the next day. Meme and I share everything…..even blogs. 🙂

    • How fun to design your own home for retirement. That’s right up my alley! Three bedrooms doesn’t sound very wee, but I’m glad there isn’t much to clean. 😉 This big old two-story house we ramble around in only has two bedrooms, but it has a couple of other small oddball rooms. It’s an interesting house.

  13. Interesting I never thought to do something like this. I tend to keep everything in my head and when I start writing I immerse myself in their world and describe what I see but your idea is much more organized. I might have to try it out!

    • Maddle … dld you do thls wlth the house ln “Blg Easy Hunter?” Loved the house on the cover and loved thls book. My revlew ls over on Amazon. My favorlte llne (l wrote lt down and left lt at work) was when Darby told Susan how much her frlendshlp meant to hlm…made me cry because l thought of my frlends who have been such a blg help to me thls year and last year

      • Nancy, thank you so much for the reviews! What a nice surprise today. I’m appreciative!

        Yes, the house on the cover of Big Easy Hunter was one I found online. My niece does my cover art, and she tweaked it just enough to give it a little different look from the original, and I love it.

        Aunt Sony’s house – the lane going back and the house itself – was my grandmother and grandfather’s homestead! Every description of the property and the interior of the house was my grandparent’s house. I wrote a blog post about it and some of my feelings when writing Big Easy Hunter:

        I have to admit, I almost felt like I was breaking Darby and Susan up in that book. I was so relieved when he told her he was simply passing the torch. 🙂 It’s one of the reasons I sent them off – just the two of them – to Chicago in the next book. You are a dear to read the books, and if you read the next one, I hope you enjoy it, too.

        • You’re welcome…that ls so cool about the house. l loved your blog and Sony and Alfred’s house ls just llke l pictured lt. Dlna from “Sweeter Than W(h)lne”‘s parents’ house ls my parents’ old house. Every time l go there, l have so many memories. lt will be hard to pass by there after l sell lt and see somebody else living there. You’re welcome for the reviews. l know I’ll like the next one. l love Chicago although l haven’t been there since the 1970’s. My favorite part was going to Water Tower Place (shopping!), Mama Batt’s (Jewish food…giant cheese blintzes), the Museum of Science and industry and Chinatown. And l loved taking the train and seeing Kamlnsky Park. Nancy

    • In the long run it helps me as I picture everything in my head. I have a fictional city of Buxley in my newest book. I downloaded the map of a small town in SE Ohio where the story is set and used it as guide for my small town. I even chose an actual cul-de-sac for my characters. If nothing else, the visuals keep me from getting confused when I write. If you try this, let me know how it works out! 🙂

  14. Pingback: Building Blocks (Growing older) | Simplicity Lane

    • Now that you mention that, Mary, I do recall seeing those before. And a lot of chapter headings had action scenes of what was to come. I’m so glad I don’t need an artist for all of that these days. 🙂

    • Hi Lady! The actual floorplans have helped me quite a bit. Besides “seeing” my characters move around more easily in my mind, they help me to remember what I’ve said previously. Because the book I’m writing now is taking place predominantly outdoors, I drew a map of the trails, lakes, and buildings, so I wouldn’t have someone taking the “left” trail to the rock quarry and another person taking the same “right” trail to the rock quarry. I’ve found myself referring to this homemade map with every writing session.

      Plus, it’s fun to look at floorplans and choose one. 😉

  15. Now that is a really interesting viewpoint in the writing mind – I never had written fiction so I never really thought about the mechanics of it, but I can see how that would help. My parents are architects so I have seen a LOT of floorplans – and been dragged to look at a lot of buildings. It is kinda fun working out what goes where in each house.

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