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A Map of History

February 6, 2010

For some time, now, I’ve had a link to the Cartographer’s Guild website here on my blog.  In light of my recent telling of the story of my novel, and how the CG plays into that story (a part which I haven’t related, as yet), I thought I’d call out that link to the Guild.  And, I’ll tell a little more of my story – the part in which the Guild comes to play a role.

I mentioned on Wednesday that I had suffered a one-two punch that left me with a big gaping hole where my novel-in-progress used to be.  But big gaping holes demand to be filled, and ultimately the writer’s spirit cannot be quelled but by writing.  So, I had decided to start, from scratch, a complete rethinking of that novel before starting a rewrite.

As I considered the process that rethinking the story meant, what going back to the very beginning meant, I started to form a plan.  My idea was this: the story of the novel takes place in a world that has already seen much history come to pass.  Without some of the context of that history, the story of the novel is a little out-of-place.  The story gains meaning and momentum where it touches on the history of this imagined world.  So I needed to rethink that history.  But history is made what it is by the actions of people.  Therefore, I must know more about the people who made that history.  People are profoundly influenced by the cultures in which they live.  So, I must explore those cultures in greater depth.  Cultures grow and develop in ways that accord with the environment in which they evolve.  Thus, I must know more about these environments.  Environments, insofar as I am interested, consist primarily of two factors: the laws governing the universe in which this story takes place, and the geography and natural environment of the world in which the story is set.  The former implies careful development of the physical and metaphysical laws governing this world: gods (be there any in this world), magic, physics, etc.  The latter implies having a map.

Maps have always been one of my favorite parts of fantasy novels.  When provided, I refer to them frequently throughout reading a novel.  Maps give the world a sense of place, a sense of being real in a way that words alone cannot.  The words and the map together make the world what it is, making the characters who interact it in all the more real.  So it was a natural progression for me to realize that, if I was to start writing from scratch, I needed first to start mapping from scratch. 

The next problem, I reasoned, was that all my prior maps, besides being crappy in execution (lacking, as they did, any consideration of geological soundness or believable reasonability) were limited by existing only in hand-drawn hard copy.  I couldn’t search them or zoom in or do anything else cool with them, to help me as I write.  So I decided I wanted to execute this new map on the computer (after I got a new computer, that is).  Therefore, I needed a software program that would help.  Famous art editing tool Adobe Photoshop was about a thousand times more expensive than I could afford.  But, lucky for me, the Open Source movement had answered my conundrum already, by creating the GIMP.  GIMP was the right price point, and though not as bells-and-whistley as Photoshop, it had the power I would need.

So, using GIMP, I started to map.  But these early attempts were not quite reaching what I was looking for.  So, I searched for help.  And lo, the internet doth provide, for there is a Guild, already, on the Internet devoted solely to the topic of creating maps, with tutorials in abundance even on how to use GIMP.  So, I started using some of the things I used there, and after spending some time learning the techniques, I started new maps for my imagined world.

Ultimately, my efforts were stalled by a factor over which I had little control.  I wanted the size to be such that I had a really good, detailed view of the world as a whole.  I wanted it to look half-decent.  But these two factors, combined with the resource-intensive processing of GIMP, meant that, as far I had gotten, each added element to the map brought my computer to its knees.  Still, I was satisfied with how far I had managed to get.  Though it is not complete enough, yet, for my ultimate purposes, the map I ended with will serve well for my current needs.

That, combined with a precipitous drop in actually having free time has meant that I’ve needed to turn my focus to other aspects of the project, only to return to the map at some imagined future date when time and computing resources both will allow me to finish the job.

Hope this little journey down into the world of maps has inspired you, as well.

Happy writing.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. February 6, 2010 2:02 pm

    Oh, and FYI, my wife suggested I talk about this particular topic. She thought it was particularly nerdish of me to try to map out my little imaginary world. Lucky for me, my wife digs my nerdiness.

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