Doorways to Writing: How Characters Experience Changes
The smug, newly-painted door to a neat suburban house.
A mysterious wooden door in the side of a hill.
Doorways can have a key significance in writing, because the act of passing through a doorway is more than the move from one place to another; it can also be the change from one state to another. The hidden door under the ivy in The Secret Garden, the wardrobe door in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and the tiny door in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland all make the most of this possibility.
But a door doesn’t have to be a mystic portal to another land to bring sudden differences in your character’s experiences. Even in a modern everyday setting, passing through a doorway can bring an instant change from a shadowy interior to dazzling sunlight, from a plushy visitors’ area to the chill of a shabby room behind the scenes, or from light and warmth out into darkness, wind and rain.
These physical changes can be contrasted with or reflected in your characters’ emotions: a bridegroom’s sudden nervousness as he enters the church; a child’s terror as the bedroom door slowly creaks open; a teenager’s surge of reckless joy as he kicks open the back door of a shop; a girl’s sharp disappointment as she opens the front door to find the wrong boy on the doorstep.
Several doors give your character a choice of options – and any one could lead to a catastrophic mistake or an amazing adventure. Or a broom cupboard.
Open doorways usually invite and welcome, particularly if someone is standing in the doorway to meet your character, or what can be seen through the door is something desirable. They can also symbolise freedom and new opportunities. However, depending on the mood of your writing, they can be made to seem threatening. The simile of an open mouth waiting to swallow up a character is an over-used cliche, but the principle behind it remains.
Half-open doors tempt your character to enter/leave or peep through to see what’s on the other side. Or is someone looking through at them?
Closed doors hide secrets. Two identical doors could have very different things behind them. Since it’s not possible to see past the door when it is closed, this can be used to create a feeling of mystery or suspense, or bathos when the door is finally opened to reveal something far less exciting than anticipated. Open doorways where the contents cannot be seen (such as the dark entrance of a cave) work the same way, although there is no physical barrier.
Locked doors protect or restrict, depending on your character’s point of view. Is the door keeping them in, or out? Being trapped behind a locked door by accident can instil different emotions from being locked in deliberately. Or locking the door could produce a profound rush of relief, as your character finally makes it to safety.
Smashed-open doors can represent the violation of your character’s feelings, or their willingness to force their wishes on others. In effect, they symbolise a change where the closed door’s secrets are revealed against their owner’s wishes.
Try these starting points for your writing:
- As she touched the door, she felt a faint tingling sensation.
- The door was locked – at least, I hoped it was.
- Light and music streamed from the doorway, drawing her inside.
- There were four doors, each different from the others.
- For the first time ever, the door stood slightly open.
- He beat his fists on the door, sobbing with despair.
- Something unpleasant was oozing from underneath the door.
Emily Lock is a freelance writer and blogger about the ups and downs of trying to evolve towards a better life.
Her Emily the Dodo blog is updated every week, with ideas to inspire you to make those changes, quizzes to help you decide what you want and planners so you can figure out how you’re going to get it, along with life hacks to make it easier. Come and join Emily on the journey to a happy life.