A well-described setting is essential to a good haunted house novel. Readers need to be able to “see” the house with their minds’ eye. Therefore, authors often take special care when describing the architectural layout. This same care is applied to describing the inside of the house. From marble statues and ornate wall décor to winding corridors or spiral staircases, it is the author’s job to convey these visuals in such a way that encourages readers to temporarily forsake their off-page surroundings and take in the haunting environment that that exists within the pages.
In order for this vicarious relocation to be accomplished, writers and readers need to be familiar with certain terms that are related to architecture and interior design. I have come across many of these terms in both in my reading and writing. When reading, I may have come upon a word that described, say, a part of the roof, but I was at a loss to understand the description since I was unfamiliar with the term. Likewise; when writing, I found myself searching in vain for the right set of phrases to describe an architectural component, only to discover that there was a single word that could define the whole shebang.
This piece will examine the physical components of the houses within this genre. I will provide pictures along with definitions and examples ripped from the pages of classic and indie novels. Definitions are provided courtesy of Merriam-Webster.com. Hopefully this will be helpful to readers and writers of this genre.
Definition: the lower border of a roof that overhangs the wall.
“Shaking off from my spirit what must have been a dream, I scanned more narrowly the real aspect of the building. Its principal feature seemed to be that of an excessive antiquity. The discoloration of ages had been great. Minute fungi overspread the whole exterior, hanging in a fine tangled web-work from the eaves. Yet all this was apart from any extraordinary dilapidation.” – The Fall of the House of Usher by Edgar Allan Poe.
Definition: an object with several branches for holding candles or lights.
“Now in no one of the seven apartments was there any lamp or candelabrum, amid the profusion of golden ornaments that lay scattered to and fro or depended from the roof. There was no light of any kind emanating from lamp or candle within the suite of chambers.” – The Red Masque of Death by Edgar Allan Poe.
Definition: an upright architectural member generally ending in a small spire and used especially in Gothic construction to give weight especially to a buttress.
“Little curved towers and pinnacles, with outlines suggestive of leaping flames, predominate; while the body of the building is in the form of a circle.” – House on the Borderland by William Hope Hodgeson.
Definition: a section of a building’s outside wall that is shaped like a triangle and that is formed by two sections of the roof sloping down.
“It faced south, with one gable end buried to the lower windows in the eastward rising hill, and the other exposed to the foundations toward the street. Its construction, over a century and a half ago, had followed the grading and straightening of the road.” – The Shunned House by H.P. Lovecraft.
Definition: a brick, stone, or concrete area in front of a fireplace
“The fire he had left to die was roaring to life again, the blaze filling the entire hearth. He could feel its searing heat.” – The Amityville Horror by Jay Anson.
Definition: a usually roofed open gallery or portico attached to the exterior of a building
“…she put her feet down firmly and went up to the veranda and the door. Hill House came around her in a rush; she was enshadowed, and the sound of her feet on the wood of the veranda was an outrage in the utter silence.” – The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson
Definition: 1 a : a beam, stone, or arch serving as a lintel to support the masonry above a fireplace. b : the finish around a fireplace 2) A Shelf above the fireplace.
“..from the exquisite symmetry of the marble mantles to the filigree of the wrought iron handrails, only the best had been good enough for the man or woman who’d owned this place.” – Coldheart Canyon: A Hollywood Ghost Story by Clive Barker
Definition: a channel in a chimney for conveying flame and smoke to the outer air
“They searched for him in the attic room and cubby hole and press, and even up the chimney flue and everywheres I guess, but all they ever found of him was his pants and round-abouts. And the goblins will get you if you don’t watch out.” – The Little Orphan Annie by James Witcomb Riley
Definition: either one of a set of two metal rings designed to lock around a person’s wrists or ankles.
“The room was empty and quiet. Manacles and chains hung from the walls.” – The House on the Moor by William Meikle
Definition: any of the parallel beams that support a roof
“He looked up, but all he could see were dark shadows high in the rafters.” – The House on the Moor by William Meikle
Definition: a kind of low wall that is placed at the sides of staircases, bridges, etc., and that is made of a row of short posts topped by a long rail.
“They reached the second floor and, turning to the right, started along the balcony corridor. On their right, the heavy balustrade continued. To their left, set periodically along the paneled wall, were bedroom doors.” – Hell House by Richard Matheson
Definition: heavy cloth that has designs or pictures woven into it and that is used for wall hangings, curtains, etc.
“The seventh apartment was closely shrouded in black velvet tapestries that hung all over the ceiling and down the walls, falling in heavy folds upon a carpet of the same material and hue.” – The Red Masque of Death by Edgar Allan Poe