Character Building: Fictional Places What Makes Them Unique

June 2, 2023



Shan Arcega

World-building is one of the most interesting processes of writing fantasy stories. During world-building, one can instill the entire culture of a set of characters within just one edifice, or present the personality of a mysterious character with a house plan, or even present the overall philosophy of a story within the exterior of a house. Architecture in stories can be compared to creating more stories within the bigger, more complex novel. Though there are several fantasy books that present soul-catching settings like The Hogwarts Castle in Harry Potter, or the Middle-Earth castles in The Lord of The Rings, or Charmain’s Great Uncle’s many-doored-house in The House of Many Ways by Diana Wynn Jones. These three fictional places from fantasy books are just some of the other places that highlight the characters and their stories in an eccentric and magnificent way. 

Babel Tower from R.F. Kuang’s Babel (2022)

A map of Babel tower fictional_illustration by nicolette caven from singapore unbound
A map of Babel Tower. Fictional illustration by Nicolette Caven

The Royal Institute of Translation’s Babel Tower is a white edifice made in the neoclassical style. It is eight storeys tall and is ringed with ornamental pillars and decorated with high stained-glass windows. Each floor is dedicated to a specific discipline within the institute, among them, silver-working sits at the very top of the tower to account for possible fires which can be easier to dissolve the higher it is. Crowning the entire structure is a large dome, making it the most imposing building in fictional London. Babel Tower is as logically built as the people in it. Like them, the tower seems to just be something of magnificence, something for people to admire but inside lies an organized layout that makes the entire edifice even more unique.

Howl’s Moving Castle from Howl’s Moving Castle by Hayao Miyazaki (2004)

concept art for howl's castle by hayao miyazaki
Concept art for Howl’s Castle by Hayao Miyazaki

Homes, bedrooms, and personal spaces are extensions of the people lying in them. Howl’s castle is no different. The exterior is a hodge podge of structures and elements that seem to have been plucked from anywhere. Like Howl, the castle is a collection of the different personas he has portrayed in order ot keep his freedom against the witches chasing after him. Inside, a portal is set within a simple wooden door for him to venture to four different worlds, not just in an attempt to have more escape routes but also to have easier access to places where Sophie could possibly be. Though Hayao Miyazaki’s adaptation is more famous, Howl’s Castle in Diana Wynne Jones’ 1986 novel still carries a few key similarities.

Related read: Personalization and Balance in Design: Ghibli Edition

Charon’s Crossing from Under the Whispering Door by TJ Klune (2021)

Charon's Crossing concept art by Red Nose Studio
Charon’s Crossing artwork designed by Katie Klim. Image from Red Nose Studio

Charon’s Crossing is a teashop where ghosts can come and visit before crossing over to wherever humans are led after death. As seen in this art by Katie Klim and Red Nose Studio, its architecture overall is a tower of a house that combines parts of different houses to make a confusing (yet eccentric and fun-looking) singular house that can represent Charon’s Crossing’s intent: to be the place where all confusing thoughts and memories can be mixed together until one finds order with the chaos and finally cross over to where they must truly go. A rest stop that’s quite similar to home even though it looks very close to toppling over.

Though these places are make-belief and only exist in the labyrinthian minds of writers, architecture is still the same in any place and tells exciting stories.

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