Now the winter season is fast approaching and the nights are drawing in, electric lights in homes are switched on earlier, before the curtains and blinds of windows are shut against the startling electric blue of the evening, before it slowly deepens to a midnight blue. And this can be a magical time, because from outside looking in, these domestic interiors are lit with a warm cosy glow of idyllic domesticity, where the living environments of others are sharply illuminated : their walls, their pictures, their shelves, their books and ornaments, their sofas and themselves. It’s intimate, cosseting, snug, and the colours are radiant, incandescent…it’s a time when you can snatch glimpses into other people’s lives, and stimulate your creative imagination.
These ‘night windows’ can look so ideal, a very different feel to during the day. It must be something to do with the glowing colours working on the psyche, because we all know that appearances can be deceptive. The people you can catch glimpses of have their inner conflicts going on which that cosy interior doesn’t reveal. All you have to do is go outside of your own home in the dark, look through your own illuminated window, see the cosy view, then go back in and resume what you were doing to discover it’s all a matter of perspective. No matter how idyllic it looks from the outside, it’s not quite the same inside as you go back to what you were doing. But even so, this dusk period is magnetic and enchanting. There is a big house near me that displays a massive teddy bear sitting in a second floor window at Christmas time. He’s facing out, with the lights deliberately on, so that from the road, as you’re driving by, you can give that teddy a wave and a smile. I ‘get’ this house owner’s actions and love the gesture. Similarly, once people have their Christmas trees decorated, I think there is a conscious decision to delay drawing the curtains, so that people passing by can look in and see the sparkle. The home dweller want to share.
These particular rosy interiors of winter can provide us with the ‘ideal’. Our created characters can travel through the biting wind and rain and heavy groaning traffic to their nest, where they can relax, and nurture themselves in their haven. This aspect really doesn’t lend itself to anything else, and that’s fine, we need the gloss sometimes. But what about when we snatch glimpses through windows during the day?
Now I must give a disclaimer here. I’m not advocating staring and snooping through windows, I’m talking about glances and glimpses because they fuel the imagination more than if everything is laid bare. I know there are some people who go and view a house for sale, with no serious intention other than to have a look around! I know there are people (who am I kidding, we’re talking about women here) who go to an open garden event, then ask for the toilet, only for the opportunity to have a look through the house! This is going too far, I hope you would agree…and I still think a little is more teasingly mysterious that a lot. But we have to be honest with ourselves here. Many of us take a swift glance through a window because we’re curious about how other people live. This is innately human. Why else the catchphrase from Through the Keyhole (an old TV program here in the UK)– ‘So who lives in a house like this?’ chanted to the guests who must guess the celebrity who owns the home, because we all know that our home reflects who we are in so many ways. We want it to, and we want it to be appreciated by others. Why else all those interior design magazines? And people display special ornaments inside their windows because they know they will be seen from the outside as well as from the inside – this is done quite consciously.
So we can use what we see through the daytime windows to imagine and create characters who may live behind these windows, and ask ourselves who might live in a house like this or what might happen in a house like this?
I once saw an elderly lady sitting in a Victorian terraced house, big velvet lined curtains, Regency height ceiling, a traditional but spartan interior. She was sitting reading the paper at a table by the window. It was only a few seconds that I looked from the opposite side of the street. But that picture fuelled so many ideas for a story, and in my mind I added so many other things to that living room, like a lacy tablecloth, a ticking clock, a spider plant. This is the kind of stimulation I’m talking about.
Then there is a cottage window I compulsively glance in near where I live that makes me wince. I know I wouldn’t want to be invited into this house – there’s a coldness about it, a harshness…and with a little more imagination I could go to work on using these feelings and impressions to make it a crime scene of some kind. I could add peeling paint to the window sill, a crack in the glass, plastic tulips in a vase…
There is the derelict window, with curtains which have been sun-dried to shreds, where cobwebs lurk in the corners, where no light ever reaches into or out from. Why? Is the former house-dweller dead, have they moved away with the house left in a ghostly limbo, or are they still inside – alive or dead?
There are the closed net-curtained windows, where the occupants don’t want to let anyone in – you can ask yourself why? Are they simply too overlooked from the street, or might it be something more sinister? Can you make it something sinister?
We’ve all seen those windows full of china figurines – who collects them and why? What are their values?
There are the silk flower arrangements that never change, or those that change once a month.
There are the bronze Buddhas of those who aim to be mindful and enlightened, or are they simply following fashion?
What about the cluttered windows of crafting types that are strung with baubles and stained glass arrangements, with dream catchers and dried flowers…
There are the clinical windows, with just one object displayed. So that object, maybe a glass sculpture, takes on a certain significance…is it meant to show status as well as reflect taste, for example?
There are the colours of the interiors, boring magnolia for the traditionalists, white for the modernists, or rich colours for the artisans and Bohemian types. What kind of pictures are on the walls, just one in the middle of each wall, or whole arrangements? How is the furniture arranged, formally neat and spacious or cluttered and informally welcoming. There is so much to think about and imagine.
And of course if we turn it around, we can create a home for a particular character in the same way, a home that best fits them, especially when a significant amount of the story will be taking place there. And some details about their home may be quite symbolic or may ‘show’ the reader the character in a more interesting way. For example, a bitter and rather hardened lady character of mine does a good deal of cross-stitch and frames them, but only displays these in a spare bedroom rather than the one she shares with her husband. Why? She also is very proud of a white marble fireplace and a Chinese rug alongside it, because she bought them herself. Why did she have to do that? And the reader will learn about her through these details. And how we can come up with these details is to imagine looking through our created character’s windows. What do we see? What does the character want others to see? Remembering that a persons home is where they can freely express themselves, as well as express how they want to be seen.
And if you are romantically inclined you could say that the views through windows reflect the soul.
So enjoy the glowing windows of the season as we hurtle towards Christmas – Hmm, Christmas… I’ll get to that soon, but not too soon!