Beginning with a Map
I mentioned in my weekly report, yesterday, that I’d drawn a map for my current novel project, The Book of M. I’ve written about mapmaking on my blog before, but seeing as it’s been over a year, I figure the statute of limitations are up on that one. I said this, previously:
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 in it all the more real.
I think what I said then is still an eloquent observation, so I share it again.
When last I talked about maps in the context of writing a fantasy novel, I was relating the tale of how I had embarked on a new, computer-assisted mapping project for the world of my “Project SOA” books using The Gimp. Ultimately, however, my little laptop proved insufficiently powerful to handle the map I was then creating. (I’ll share an image of what I had done, so far, down below.)
Now, I’m working on “Book of M”. And last week, I realized I’d reached the point where I needed a map. But, this time I don’t have time to waste wrangling with GIMP on a machine that was never meant to run the GIMP. So, for now at least, it’s back to my old, tried-and-true mapmaking tools: pencil and paper. And of course, why not make use of the gloriously blank pages of my Hot New Writer’s Journal? So that’s just what I did.
And why am I so up-in-arms about having a working map for this project? Because, well, I’m tired of writing in my notes about “And then Protagonist leaves The Village and journeys to The City across The Wilderness.” I mean, in the context of the story, Protag didn’t leave a place called “The Village” to go to “The City”. Those placeholder names are like Platonic Ideals: they’re archetypal of a village or a city, but the places in the story have real names and history. Yet I didn’t quite know what those names were, or what their geographic relationship to each other was.
Sometimes a map helps me think up names for places. In this case… I came up with a couple names I didn’t have on hand already prior to putting pencil to paper. And yes, sometimes the map doesn’t help with coming up with names, because you’re being more particular about it. For instance, I wanted the culture of The City where my protagonist eventually ends up to have a Spanish/Italian flavor. Meanwhile, I wanted the culture of the co-protagonist to have more of a Celtic or Germanic influence. Part of that cultural flavor, of course, comes in the names and languages, and that means coming up with a few rules for the sound of the languages where these people come from. Which takes a bit of research into the phonology of Romance languages versus that of Celtic and Germanic languages, which is a whole lot of thinking about stuff whereas I really just want to be thinking about and plotting the story.
So, that said, some of the names I ultimately did come up with may turn out to be nothing more than placeholders… if I find that these names clash with the phonologies of the respective language and culture groups these characters represented. (This same problem plagues the naming of the protagonist and other main characters. One step at a time. Still, I think it might behoove me to do some reading up on the phonologies of the various cultures I’m trying to emulate really soon, so I can create some phonological rules for my own world.) Regardless, just having this map, even if populated with placeholder names that I may eventually have to replace, makes the story feel just a little more real to me. And that’s an important step in my creative process for a story this big.
Anyway, I’ve been drawing maps for my fantasy stories since grade school. It’s just a part of my process… whether that’s using pencil and paper – the old, classical methodology – or computer-assisted tools, and whether that’s for fantasy novels, nebulous fantasy-themed ideas, or attmepts at RPG campaign worlds. I’ve learned a lot in the many years I’ve doing this. Stuff about tectonics and geology and climate, and so on. Most of that learning I didn’t really bring to bear on this particular project. I just wanted a quick, easy, and decent-looking map to get me moving on the project. (And besides, it’s part of the background for the plot that the climate is not what you would expect it to be…)
(As a study in contrast, the last big-ish project I completed, the novelette “PFTETD”, took place in a contemporary world: i.e. it’s something of an “urban fantasy” except for the “urban” part. So, I relied heavily on Google Maps and other online resources to provide me with maps of the places where my story was taking place. I didn’t need to create a map because I could see it in more-or-less real-time.)
Now, someday, I will get back to working on “Project SOA”. It’s kind of my Magnum Opus. I just don’t have the skill needed to create a Magnum Opus at this stage of my writing career. That’s why I need to write things like “Book of M”, first: Book of M is a story that will be awesome even if it turns out I’m a talentless hack, and in the writing of it I may become something more than a mere talentless hack: I may acquire the skills I need to eventually tackle “Project SOA”. When I do get around to writing it, I’ll want a map. More specifically, I’ll want to finish that map I started working on using The GIMP.
In the meantime, here’s how it looked when last I had the time and processing power to handle it. Not bad – almost artistic. But a long way to go before I can call it a map.