Me to MC: Let’s Decorate

It’s been too long since I worked on my novel. In terms of actual writing–August was great & productive, with getting the synopsis written & filling in some gaps in the middle. And I’ve been doing some more reading–trying to connect with Ida B. Wells and get close to what it is about her that inspires me and needs to inspire Caro. And I won’t have much time this week to really focus in, because I’ll be getting ready to head down to San Luis Obispo to talk at the Central Coast Writers’ Conference.

With the “writing” time I will have, I’ve decided to play. Caro and I are going to decorate her room.

This should be interesting. My visual-art talents are pretty much limited to drawing stick figures–really simple stick figures. If you read Susan Taylor Brown’s blog, you may have seen some of the art collage work she’s doing–here’s her page on Flikr to really look at the beautiful pages she’s created. Anyway, I do NOT have aspirations to this level, but it has gotten me thinking. I may do some searches for furniture around 1910, print some of them out, and do the more basic-level, think-first-grade kind of collage. I’m picturing printing everything in black & white, then maybe washing some colors over it (like I know what that means or even how to do it quickly and easily!).

Anyway, I’ve been thinking about what I need to furnish & decorate Caro’s room. I want, somehow, to catch the period and her personality–the contrasts between the way her mother will have set up the room when Caro was younger and the layers Caro has added as she gets older, the things that contrast and conflict with the original feel & look. So I’m picturing some pretty sturdy, long-lasting furniture, but with bright and cheerful colors–which may be where the wash comes in. And I think whatever I put on top of things will be important–the blanket on top of the bed, the items–necessaries and extras–on top of the dresser, the books on the shelves. Underneath becomes critical, too–what is Caro hiding away, from her brothers and, most importantly, from her mother? There’s a photograph somewhere, that I think was originally Mama’s, but which Caro now has–without her mother realizing it’s “gone.” There’s a place that Caro’s little brother sits when he visits, and something her older brother fiddles with when he shows up. And there’s probably a scuff on the floor where her father stands, just inside the door, because he’d rather talk with Caro downstairs, in their shop, then in a place where she’s growing into a young woman he doesn’t quite understand.

I’ve heard authors talk about figuring out what’s in a character’s pocket, or purse, and I think I probably need that, too. For some reason, though, it’s starting to feel as if Caro’s room is what’s critical here. When she steps out of that room and into the rest of the house, she walks into the control of her mother, and that world isn’t great for asserting any individuality. When she pushes through that space to outside, into Chicago, she’s venturing further and further from what she knows–loving it, but also having the bigger world threaten her edges. So her room, I think, will be the last spot where she actually knows who she is, and even that is changing on a daily basis.

Where does your hero live? Does he or she have a space that is truly theirs? And what’s in it? What’s on display for anyone to see, and what’s tucked away? Have you thought about decorating lately?


  1. Trish says:

    What an interesting topic! My MC is a Marine, so he’s spent the past eight months living in a spartan combat outpost in Afghanistan, sleeping on the ground with a dirty blanket. Now, home on leave, he’s in his old room that’s decorated to reflect who he was before he joined the Corps.


  2. nrhatch says:

    How fun!

    You can decorate at the keyboard without making a mess of things with paint drips. 8)

    Enjoy the conference too!


  3. Thanks for the shout-out, Becky. I think it’s a great idea to decorate your main character’s room. I hope it helps you get to know her even better.

    I have an art journal begun for fly boy and plant kid.


  4. Fun is kinda important! 🙂


  5. Fascinating! When I’m working on a first draft, I am a glutton for visual images, everything from portraits to maps to modern photographs of old places (alas no contemporary photos, since I’m working in the 1600s).

    Love that scuff just inside the door!


    • beckylevine says:

      I look at a lot of this stuff, but it doesn’t seem to stick with me for long, especially as I write. So I have to go back & back again. Luckily, it’s fun. 🙂

      Do you look at portraits for the 1600s?


      • I do. And that’s probably why the National Portrait Gallery is one of my favorite museums. I’ve even been to its satellite out in Somerset, where lots of the Tudor and early Stuart portraits are kept. Ah, the sacrifices we make for research… 🙂


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