Of all the stories you loved in childhood, which of the houses would you most like to live in? Was it, by chance, a ‘bustling’ environment? Was it quirky or intriguing or very large?
John Truby writes about the warm, bustling house in his book The Anatomy Of Story:
The warm house in storytelling is big (though usually not a mansion), with enough rooms, corners and cubbyholes for each inhabitant’s uniqueness to thrive. Notice that the warm house has within it two additional opposing elements: the safety and coziness of the shell and the diversity that is only possible within the large.
Writers often intensity the warmth of the big, diverse house by using the technique known as the “buzzing household”. This is the Pieter Brueghel technique (especially in paintings like The Hunters In The Snow and Winter Landscape with a Bird Trap) applied to the house.
In the buzzing household, all the different individuals of an extended family are busy in their own pocket of activity. Individuals and small groups may combine for a special moment and then go on their merry way. This is the perfect community at the level of the household. Each person is both an individual and a part of a nurturing family, and even when everyone is in different parts of the house, the audience can sense a gentle spirit that connects them.
Truby continues, happening to put into words why children’s books are so often enjoyed by adults even after we are long since grown:
Part of the power of the warm house is that it appeals to the audience’s sense of their own childhood, either real or imagined. Everyone’s house was big and cozy when they were young, and if they soon discovered that they lived in a hovel, they can still look at the big, warm house and see what they wished their childhood had been. That’s why the warm house is so often used in connection with memory stories, like Jean Shepherd’s Christmas Story, and why American storytellers so often use ramshackle Victorian places, with their many snug gables and corners from a bygone era.