Thursday, May 5, 2011

Map making.

So a probably vaguely important part of any major fantasy undertaking is the map. This also a ridiculously difficult part, so lets talk about it a bit.

First, and foremost, let’s establish something here: you do not need a map. It’s not a vital part of a series, and is especially useless if your fantasy novel takes place here on earth. At that point, your readers all had real maps hanging on the walls of their elementary school classrooms to refer to. Mine still showed the Soviet Union, though, so you may want to check an updated one.

For the rest of us writing second-world stuff, maps serve two valuable functions: to help the reader understand the story and to help you the writer tell it clearly. I personally just about went nuts and drew five or six maps for The Consecution Books.

What inspired this article was my work on a very large map for all of the things I’m doing in the dimension of Arindell. That includes the Mage Wars, my pen-and-paper game, and of course all the various books.

Having a map, even a simple one purely for personal use, can make the writing process a lot easier if your book involves any amount of traveling. So let’s get started.

The first step is to draw yourself a little compass rose. It helps to remember never to eat soggy waffles. Ok, that probably didn’t make sense, but it’s a mnemonic device. Never Eat Soggy Waffles helps you remember the cardinal directions: North East South West, and more specifically what order they go in when drawing a compass.

It doesn’t have to be anything fancy, I typically just make a little plus sign in the corner and write in my directions. If you’ve already got some of the areas in your book planned out, you can turn the page and rose accordingly. For example, my map of Arindell has West at the top because of the key locations in The Next Progression.

Scale is not terribly important, but do try to stick to something. If you really want to go all-out, head over to an art supply store and get yourself some drafting tools. Or improvise a bit. All you really need is a ruler and a set idea of how big things are.

You don’t have to be specific, but especially if you plan to publish the map try to keep your distances realistic. A lot of my story arch hinges around distances being to insurmountable, so I’ve got thousands upon thousands of miles to deal with.

This is one area where things get tricky, but there are a few things to help you get a frame of reference. For example: if you happen to be living in the US of A, you should know that the width of the continuous united states is about 3,000 miles. The American Discovery Trail, a series of hiking trails that bisects the country by way of national parks, is 5,500 miles, and takes over 8 months to hike. This is because you can’t necessarily walk in a straight line, there are things like mountains and rivers and other various barriers to deal with. America has some serious topography, so if your characters are trying to cross a continent on foot, that metric is fairly accurate. Otherwise, 22 miles a day is a pretty reasonable walking pace.

Your map, though, can be any scale. Mine only covers a fraction of the world and is thousands of miles. It’s complicated, and difficult, and constantly has me wanting to scream.

But, that’s the life of an author.

In unrelated news, as of today I have had my wiki for 523 days, in which time it has received nearly 22,000 hits, almost all of which I am certain belong to me. My back to the future article continues to gain about a hit a day, with still no one offering a comment as to why it is so popular.

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