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Thursday, May 13, 2010

Get Out the Map: Using Maps to Build Your World

Please welcome guest blogger Robyn Bachar

I love maps. There’s a tapestry of a map of Middle Earth over our fireplace, and as gamers my husband and I have had many game maps tacked up on the walls near our computers. In the Storyteller series on my blog I’ve been discussing a gamer’s approach to writing, and for a gamer having a reliable map is often essential to your character’s success. As a writer, a map can be invaluable to creating your world and plotting your story. While drawing up maps for your own setting is traditionally associated with fantasy, they can be useful for sci-fi and modern paranormal/urban fantasy settings.

Mapping a Kingdom, Planet or City: If you’re creating your own setting, the idea of mapping it out can be intimidating, especially if you haven’t sketched anything since Art class in high school. First, you must embrace the mantra that it doesn’t matter if you can’t draw, because no one is going to see your map but you. One day you might want a professionally done version for your book or website, but right now it doesn’t matter that Blobville is next to Trapezoidland. What matters is getting down the basics—place names and terrain details. Second, don’t worry if you can’t name every city, village, town and farm on your map. A tip I learned that I use in my own writing is to place something in brackets when I don’t want to stop and name it, like [Hero’s home town] or [Heroine’s high school]. That way I remember what it is, but I don’t have to sit and ponder if Oakville is a better name than Pineville when neither is going to end up in the story. Don’t be afraid to leave an area blank or unnamed. Blank areas on game maps are often filled in later in expansions. The EverQuest map grew larger with each expansion as new continents were added.

For a gamer a map is so much more than just the names of places, because it can also tell you what monsters live in that area, what resources you can harvest, what travel routes connect it to other areas, what quests you can complete there and what areas are enemy territory. These are all good details to include in your map too. If Blobville and Trapezoidland are at war, the characters in your story need to know about it if they’re traveling through that area. Even if your characters aren’t going near those lands during your story, it might come up in a backstory, or in a later novel.

For modern settings, if your story takes place in a real world area you might think you don’t need your own map. However, you can always modify an existing map to reflect the world in your story. Do the vampires control a specific part of town? Is their territory encroaching on the werewolves’ area? Shade in their territory with colored pencils. Use pushpins to mark where the major characters live or any additions or deletions you make to the city. If dragons descended on Chicago and destroyed Navy Pier, that would be a good thing to keep track of on your map.

Mapping a Castle, Dungeon, Spaceship, or Character Home: All castles aren’t created equal, and not every dungeon is made of 10' by 10' stone corridors. If a significant portion of your story takes place in the same location, like a character’s home or spaceship, or if they’re exploring a dungeon looking for loot or monsters, then it can be worth your while to map the location out. There’s a variety of software you can use, but that can get pricey (and confusing, and possibly boring). I’ve used the game The Sims to design character houses—if you try it, I suggest using one of the instant money cheat codes so you can build what you need right away. Plus then you have the additional bonus of making your characters and seeing how they interact in Sim life. A low cost alternative is to simply use graphing paper. Remember graphing paper, the stuff you had to buy in Algebra before everyone was expected to shell out for a graphing calculator? I used it to design dungeons for my Dungeons & Dragons campaign, and it’s great for designing building and ship interiors. Even a simple sketch of a heroine’s home can be helpful, and this way you don’t have worry about remembering if it was a one or two bedroom house, or how the kitchen is laid out.

In closing, if you’re stumped on where to start with your design, don’t let it stop you. Google an example of it for inspiration. In Blood, Smoke and Mirrors I needed to describe the layout for a luxury hotel suite, but I’d never been in one, so I didn’t have a frame of reference for what it should look like. After poking around the sites for a few Vegas hotels I found what I was looking for and was able to move on with the scene.

Good luck, and happy mapping!

Robyn Bachar was born and raised in Berwyn, Illinois, and loves all things related to Chicago, from the Cubs to the pizza. It seemed only natural to combine it with her love of fantasy, and tell stories of witches and vampires in the Chicagoland area. As a gamer, Robyn has spent many hours rolling dice, playing rock-paper-scissors, and slaying creatures in mmorpgs. Currently she lives with her husband, also a gamer and a writer, and their cat.

Blood, Smoke and Mirrors

Wrongly accused of using her magic to harm, the closest Catherine Baker comes to helping others is serving their coffee. Life as an outcast is nothing new, thanks to her father’s reputation, but the injustice stings. Especially since the man she loved turned her in.

Now the man has the gall to show up and suggest she become the next Titania? She’d rather wipe that charming grin off his face with a pot of hot java to the groin.

Alexander Duquesne has never faltered in his duties as a guardian—until now. The lingering guilt over Cat’s exile and the recent death of his best friend have shaken his dedication. With the murder of the old Titania, the faerie realm teeters on the brink of chaos. His new orders: keep Cat alive at all costs.

Hunted by a powerful stranger intent on drawing her into an evil web, Cat reluctantly accepts Lex’s protection and the resurrected desire that comes along with it. Lex faces the fight of his life to keep her safe…and win her back. If they both survive.

1 comment:

morseren said...

Great post! Mapping out the location of your story is so important, especially if you don't want people contacting you later and saying "you got it wrong" ;)

Thanks for sharing.

Rebecca W.