Writing a fantasy novel is a great excuse to draw some maps. Not that I need an excuse.
It may be trite, but that doesn’t make it any less true: writing a novel is very much the same as undertaking a long journey. I suppose the clichéd metaphor would be that writing is a journey inside yourself. In any case, most journeys benefit from the use of a map; either you bring one to chart your course, or you create one as you go to record your progress. When writing fantasy, the connection between the journey and the map is perfectly apt: maps are more than helpful—they help define the world you create.
Also, I have always loved maps. I inherited an ancient globe from my parents—one that shows such long-lost places as Siam, East Germany and the U.S.S.R—and would spend hours poring over the names and shapes, tracing rivers and imaginary routes across oceans. The hefty world atlas was another treasure trove of information. Maps appealed, assuming subscription to an antiquated psychological theory, to both halves of my brain: there was language and history and art there, in the names and descriptions and graphical elements, but that information was presented logically, geometrically (well, geographically). Maps are a perfect amalgam of creative expression and science, both a recording of facts and a work of art. Gazing at them took my wee brain to places I’d never been or imagined. Because I’ve always created my own imaginary worlds, drawing my own maps was part of a natural progression.
I began this particular story, Glyph, without a concrete sense of place. I had a list of place names in mind, and a selection of settings for specific scenes. As I began writing in November (taking part in the 2014 NaNoWriMo Challenge), the shape of the world—and, consequently, the map of that world—began to coalesce. That’s when the scribbling began. As you can see, the map of Glyph is a work in progress. As the story becomes more defined, so does the map, which then becomes a reference for further narrative planning. Helpful, yes?
This parallel map-story synergy has not always been my process. Planning for a comic I’m writing has included creating a fictional city and all its landmarks; I’m drawing a Google Maps-esque reference on the iPad to anchor the story and give it a sense of place. I also have a much larger, more elaborate fantasy map tucked away somewhere, designed originally for a roleplaying campaign I ran in high school. I created it for a world called Syskuun, and I would love to revisit the place in writing one day. But one universe at a time, I suppose.
My passion for maps also bleeds over into my game design. One idea I have in the works involves a set of area-control games played on a map of Portland; I have a prototype map of the city, divided into neighborhoods and ready to be printed, in electronic format. Another idea I’ve been toying with is a semi-collaborative game that begins with players creating the map of a fantasy realm, which then becomes the board upon which the game is played. And then there’s my urban development game that sees players building a city, block by block and street by street, on a grid of colorful squares.
Why stop at games? Couldn’t one use a map to describe a person just as easily a city, country or world? Perhaps, in my copious free time, I should draw up a map of my life. I could chart the places I’ve lived (many) and visited (numerous but not far-flung), tying in pertinent information to describe to a viewer a little about who I am. The axes of the map needn’t be geographic, either; rather than north-south vs. east-west, I could plot accomplishments vs. adversity. Or time vs. happiness. Or any of a number of data, rendered in such a way as to explain one or two aspects of my history, values, personality or interests to a stranger. A chart of myself. We’re back to inner journeys now. These posts are best when they come full circle, aren’t they?