Thursday, April 23, 2015

Detail Maps: Move Your Characters Around Confidently

This is the first post in a series entitled Backstory: You Need It More Than Your Readers Do

The less famousbut still fabulousdetail map of the Shire from The Lord of the Rings.

As science fiction and fantasy writers and readers, we are all familiar with maps. Star and galaxy maps à la Star Trek, and world maps à la Tolkien.

I love world and galaxy maps, and use them a lot for my fiction. However, there is another tool that we can employ as writers, and these do not necessarily have to go into our finished work.

I'm talking about the detail map.

This could be a quick sketch of a street or a neighborhood, or even a map of a particular city where your characters spend a lot of time.

Benefits of creating a detail map:

  • All In One Place: You don't have to keep scrolling upward to check where you had placed that building in a previous scene.
  • Concretized Ideas: Things take on a permanence when they're down on paper.
  • Creativity Boost: You'll start to create things you'd not thought of before when you map out your neighborhood. Things like, "...wait, where do these people walk, shop, stable their animals/park their spaceships."
  • Verisimilitude: Movement will flow once you've got a neighborhood chartedinstead of a boring move from point A to point B, perhaps you can follow your character through that neighborhood. Incorporate a spice market or community water fountain, or the off-planet customs office.

    Once you've created the map, you don't have to use every detail! Only utilize those details relevant to your storyline. Remember, you need this information more than your readers.

    Take the Tolkien Shire map for example. Many neighborhoods and physical features in the map pictured above are not explored in the work. Some are referenced in passing, though, which helps the reader to place people and events. For example, Fatty Bolger's family came from the Budgefords of Bridgefields, yet he himself had never been over the Brandywine Bridge. This character reveal makes more sense to readers when they see on the map that the Brandywine Bridge is quite close to Bridgefields and yet Fatty had never bestirred himself to cross it. Yet, Bridgefields is named only once in the entire three volume novel (although it is also mentioned in the appendices).

    One of my favorite places-as-characters is Martha Wells's city Charisat in the novel City of Bones. I have to believe that she created a map of that city!

    In one of my own works, two characters must break into a house and explore it. Of course, they are attacked and must fight their way out. Not only did I draw a detail map of the house and its immediate environs, but also the doors, windows and some of the furnishings. I then referred to the map while writing the scene. All that detail made the breaking in, exploration and eventual fight much more realistic.

    Enriching your story with detail maps will help you to bring your story to life!

    Backstory: You Need It More Than Your Readers Do is a series of posts that will explore how much you need to know about your story versus how much you need to tell. It's that old show versus tell conundrum explored in a new way.

    Danielle Ste. Just is the author of several short stories including The Forgottens and The Effect-Displacement Assassin. Her new novel, Lethe, is forthcoming.

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