Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Maps and other things Fantastical

Here is the map I came up with for the King Rolen's Kin trilogy.

Making people look at the maps of your invented world is a bit like making them watch slides of your last holiday. Speaking of which, I once went to visit a friend of a friend who made us watch his collection of slides of steam trains. Only he put them in upside down and went through the whole lot, then turned them up the right way and made us sit through them again. My ... that was a night I won't forget in a hurry.

But back to maps. Over on the ROR blog MGC regular Chris Large has done the first part of a two part post on What does a Map bring to a Story. Part 2 will be up next Sunday. Thanks, Chris!

The map for King Rolen's Kin was inspired by two things. I'd been reading the history of Japan and I was intrigued by the way the string of mountainous islands with little arable land shaped the island's people. There was pressure to secure the arable land and hold it. And I also watched a documentary on volcanoes and what happens as they erode.

Being a writer, of course I saw how this would shape the people who lived there. And being an SF reader from way back, I thought why not have a planet with no moon, lots of stars, bright as a moon ( minimal tides due to planetary and solar gravitational pull)? Also, I set the islands on the equator so both north and south are cold, depending on where you are. Plus, I made the orbit elliptical, so they have intensely cold winters and hot summers.

All of which is embedded in the text, but I don't actually spell it out. It's enough for me to know. For a full explanation of the world building behind the KRK trilogy, see here.

So, tell me, do you like maps in fantasy books?
Do you ignore them until you get the narrative gets you lost and then you refer them to find out where things are?
Do you feel the map should be superfluous, that the narrative should carry enough information for you to make sense of it?
Are you like Chris, annoyed by illogical maps?

Confess now, do you have a map for your latest work-in-progress?


Anonymous said...

It's late (here), so I'll keep this short. Yes, I like maps, I often study them before starting to read the attached story. No, the story does not have to have a map, it should stand alone, (note: the author really should have some sort of landscape sketch, even if only in their mind), and yes, like Chris, I am annoyed by illogical maps that don't make geographical or geological sense. Mountains in the middle of flatland are a good example, so are random islands with no geographic sense to them... (atolls and such don't count, they're not really islands, more like accumulations).
And for the most recent WIP (ok, it's the NaNoWriMo Novel I've planned out, why not) yes I do have a map, quite detailed as it's part in parcel of the plotline, without it I'd get lost as all heck, and there's a good chance the reader would as well. Bogs, caves, tunnels, several mountian ranges, ancient meteor impact craters, random oceans therefrom... oh yeah, it'd get messy real quick.

MataPam said...

I love maps, always draw them. At various scales. World, country, the west side of the province where they took that trip, the village, the capitol city. Rough architechtural floorplans as well, if I do many interior scenes. And spaceships and space stations and . . .

I love your big volcanos.

Rowena Cory Daniells said...


Now i know you study maps, I'll have to make sure mine are logical.

No, seriously, I do anyway.

You're right, we do need them as we write to keep track of where things are and how long it takes to get from one place to another.

Rowena Cory Daniells said...


I have to remember which side of he room the windows are on and whether the morning sun would come in.

Sometimes I feel like a continuity person on a film set, constantly checking for bloopers.

Brendan said...

I do love a good map although it isn't necessarily a requirement. I am mostly looking for place names and want to be able to follow the story on the map. That being said I understand too why some authors either don't or won't include on in their books.

But once you have a map, by God you had better make sure it has everything in it. If a place is important enough to feature a a named place in your book it should be on your map. I find there is nothing worse than having some action happen in a book, you flip to the map to see where this place is-and it isn't there!

C Kelsey said...

I love a good map. The more accurate the better. Interesting enough though, I think maps should be at the end of the first book in a series. Then it's okay for the maps to be at the front of the book for follow-on tales. Reason being that before I read the first story, I have no idea what the world is like or why places are named, nor even what importance they might have. Once I've read the story I can study the map and get an idea of how the world flows together.

Anonymous said...

I have a map for every single creation I've come up with, including the urban fantasy I'm writing right now. It's easier for me, when writing, to look at the map and think "They need to head north through that pass" than it is to remember where their destination is.

It really helps, and I like it when authors put maps in their books as well. Let's me go back and say "Oh, okay... that's where they were".

Ben Godby said...

Maps, alright! I love looking at maps, and drawing them. The only problem is... running out of mapspiration. Then I've got all that blank space.

At least on the blank page, I can fill it with words...


MataPam said...


I tend to backfill my first draft with new scenes and subplots. So I always have to check for time of day, season, year, before or after romantic scenes or arguments . . .

I need a social map!

Francis Turner said...

Maps definitely good. And I definitely prefer them to be logical and without too many straight lines in the landscape

Elizabeth Moon wrote a bunch about mapts on her paksworld blog fairly recently. She drew out the whole map when she wrote the Deeed of Paksenarrion but then lost it and has recently recreated most of it which is surely a labor of love

Chris L said...

Hi Rowena,

Thanks for that. It's funny, I thought there might be a few who argued that in a fantasy world, different weathering processes would produce outlandish mountains and waterways.

Seems like even in imagined worlds most people prefer to see maps with Earth-like qualities, formed by Earth-like processes.

Rowena Cory Daniells said...

Brendan said:

I find there is nothing worse than having some action happen in a book, you flip to the map to see where this place is-and it isn't there!

That must be one of reader's regular peeves with maps.

Rowena Cory Daniells said...

C Kelsey,

I agree. The map has more relevance at the end of the book. But publishers put it where they choose.

Rowena Cory Daniells said...


I suppose it all depends on how visual your mind is. I need a map. I also need a flow chart for the time line, but that's another story.

Rowena Cory Daniells said...


I know that feeling. Is it east of west from here? Did I have them walking into the sun set back in book one, or away from it?

Rowena Cory Daniells said...


You're talking about a time line chart. I use those. I have to, especially with 3 or 4 narrative POVs.

Rowena Cory Daniells said...


We don't get paid enough for writing to be anything but a labour of love.

Or perhaps obsession!

Rowena Cory Daniells said...

Chris L,

Worlds with earth like natural processes ...

Unless you have magic seeping up through the ground ... wait, that's what I did with my world.

Jim McCoy said...

I love maps in books when they're necessary. It's important to know where things are so I can see how things fit together geographically. This helps make sense of the way things are going in the story a lot of times, especially if it's an epic fantasy or military fiction of some kinds and there is a war going on.

I'll confess to NOT having a map for my WIP. I need one though, and I'm tempted to see if I can download something somewhere to help me draw the thing. (For those that missed it, that was a hint for suggestions.)

Chris L said...

Hi Jim,

There are a lot of mapping programs out there, ranging from freeware, to professional stuff like Mapinfo ($7,000! with Discover)and ArcVeiw.

The best places to look for this software (for better or worse) is on gaming sites where D&D or other RPG players share home-grown maps. Dragon's Foot is one.

Here is a link to some software called Campaign Cartographer. You have to pay but it looks like a good package.


Brendan said...

Talking of gaming reminds me of the time I was trying to put together a game world based on Stephen Donaldson's Thomas Covenant books. Or it could have been a excuse to re-read them so I would be able to place everything properly on the maps I was drawing:)

Chris L said...


I have noticed in some instances, where authors haven't provided sufficient maps (at least for some reader's tastes), fans will simply make them up based on the writing.

Fritz Leiber's Lankhmar series is a good example. There are plenty of maps out there of Nehwon, but I don't think Leiber himself drew anything particularly accurate. I think there were one or two in the first editions that didn't make it into later versions.

I've thought several times of adding a bit of weirdness to my wine cellar by painting copies of my fav maps and hanging them down there.

Rowena Cory Daniells said...


I knew Chris would have some suggestions.

I base my maps on general knowledge. Like Slartibartfast, I like the coastlines with the crinkly edges!

Rowena Cory Daniells said...

You're right, Chris. Fans will go ahead and draw the maps.

And I broke with fantasy convention by having a topographical map, because the height of the terrain was important for the inhabitants.

Brendan said...

I know MZB resisted calls for her to produce a map for Darkover, mostly because she pretty much put locations "where they needed to be" for the story was telling at the time. So sometimes a place could be half a days ride from Thendara and at others it would take you two weeks to get there.

Stephen Simmons said...

"Always" isn't really meaningful, since I'm working on my first fantasy ... but I find that I MUST have a map in order to WRITE it. Whether or not that mp will end up being included in the book when I'm done writing is an altogether different question, and one I hadn't really reached a decision on yet, bu I simply can't do my job without knowing how far apart everything is, what sort of terrain/obstacles are between various points, howlong the travel sequences in the various sub-plots will each take ... I expect I'll probably end up including the map, as a crutch for ME, because that way I can let up a little on the info-dumpy bits about explaining all those factors and keep from boring the audience.

Rowena Cory Daniells said...

Brendan I know other writers like that and I don't agree with it. I think the world building must be solid, otherwise you don't get the sense of threat. eg.

It to them three days to get there. Now someone is ill and needs treatment back at base. If they travel the same way it should take three days or longer, because they are sick.

Rowena Cory Daniells said...

Stephen, my map for my first trilogy was on graph paper so I could estimate distances from one place to another.

Then you have to take into account, terrain and the state of the roads. Then you have to consider how the person is travelling, and how many people are with them. Then you have to consider the weather and the season!

Amanda Green said...

Rowena, I usually work with a map when I'm writing, whether it is a real-time map of a modern city or one I've drawn for a fantasy or sf piece. I've even drawn the layout of a spaceship or three. But I've never really been a die-hard fan of them in books, usually because most of the ones I've seen aren't necessary. I guess I've seen too many that bear too close of a resemblance to our world, even when the story takes place on another planet.

Still, a map that shows topography and lets me get a better understanding of what the characters face is always a good thin, imo.

Rowena Cory Daniells said...


I have a friend who set a couple of books on a space station and she had to draw the design for the space station so she could keep track of all the levels and what she said was there.

Brendan said...

To be fair to MZB, she wasn't originally trying to build a world she would be inhabiting for a large part of her writing career. Except for the Renunicates trilogy all the books are stand alone stories some set thousands of years apart from others.

There are even earlier stories which while not officially on Darkover (or Cottman III as it is known by the Terran Empire) are clear precurers to the Darkover novels.

Rowena Cory Daniells said...

Good point Brendan. The features of a map such as bridges and towns will change over a thousand years.

Where I live in south east QLD a whole new town can spring up in 20 years.