Some writers prefer leaping into a story headfirst, without any idea of where the plot might lead. Others have an inkling of where the story is heading, but they’re just not sure how to get there. Some writers are capable of whipping up a detailed, point by point outline, just like we were required to create in school.
But what about those in the middle grounds, who would like to know where the novel is going, but don’t know where to begin? Try mapping out the world of your novel, so you know what kind of boundaries, cultures, and governments your characters might have to deal with, along with what conflicts they might encounter along their way.
Why Create a Map?
A map is a visual reminder of the landscape of your novel’s world. This is especially important in novels where you are creating your own world, such as science fiction, fantasy, and some historical novels. However, even in modern fiction, you’ll need to know where your main character lives, where he works, and how long it takes him to get to various points throughout your fictional or real city. You don’t want to have huge inconsistencies, where it takes one hour to drive to the mall, and ten minutes to drive home!
You can use a map to show natural landmarks, man-made constructs, and otherÂ topographical items that your characters may have to navigate in the course of the novel. For example, your main character may want to ride her horse to the neighboring realm’s castle, but she (and you) discover there is a large river in the way with no bridge in sight! Instant plot conflict, which you and your character will have to deal with. Will she be able to cross? Will her horse be left with nearby tribesmen – whose settlement you sketched in nearby? Your map will become invaluable, adding additional depth and description to your novel.
Map Creation Techniques
To start, all you’ll need is some paper and pencils. It doesn’t matter if it is notebook paper, printer paper, or a sketchbook. You can choose colored pencils, or just a regular #2 pencil. Be sure you have an eraser around somewhere, as you’ll find yourself changing your mind throughout the creation of your novel’s map.
Decide what kind of scale you’ll be drawing at. All that means is that you will either draw your map street by street to detail your city, or city by city to show your world. For a city view map, you’ll want to highlight buildings of interest, such as a town hall, restaurants, malls, or homes. For a world view map, your cities will be dots, while landmarks will get more attention, such as mountain ranges, rivers, and forests.
Allow yourself to have fun! Your map doesn’t have to be perfect, and is for your eyes only. Of course, if you’ve drawn yourself and your characters into a corner, feel free to change anything that isn’t working. Just be sure to make the necessary changes to your novel’s plot if you decide to alter your map!
Have you ever sketched out your story’s world? Did you have fun letting your creativity flow in visual format? Would you try this method out for plotting your next novel?
Photo Credit: Renzo Ferrante