Maps (and miscellaneous)

1) Thank you to all who offered recommendations for light, humorous reading material. It is much appreciated. I’m going to get a selection of things and then see what sticks. Should be fun.

2) The winner of the copy of THE SHADOWED SUN by N.K. Jemisin was Kate P from the UK. Congrats!

3) There is a map of Europa in Cold Magic, and a map of North Amerike and the Antilles in Cold Fire. There may be a slightly more detailed map of Europa (or at least a part of it) in Cold Steel. Here’s your chance to request other map subjects, if indeed you have any. Is anyone interested in a map of the cities of Adurnam or Expedition?

I know that some love maps, some are indifferent, and some dislike them. That’s as it should be.

I personally like maps, because I’m geeky that way but also because I process information both visually and kinesthetically, and thus maps make it easier for me to negotiate certain kinds of plots. Yet with other stories, I don’t even think of wanting a map. I wonder if there is a kind of story that seems more to benefit by a map while others just don’t have any call for them.

There are narratives in which there are things about the world you can’t learn from the story but which you can glimpse if the book includes a map, so in that sense a map can add a bit of extra dimension to a world. One of the challenges of writing the Spiritwalker books in first person is that there is a lot of information about the world that can never get into the narrative because it isn’t something a) the narrator would reflect on much less know &/or b) that is necessary to the plot.

In world building as it happens on the page, I believe there is another way at looking at “mapping.” By this I don’t necessarily mean an actual drawn graphic map as a representation of a place, but a map of geography and society and history that is created in the mind of the reader as s/he walks through the story.

Secondary world stories (a term commonly used to describe stories that are set in worlds that are not this world) have to walk a fine balance. If you pile in too much detail, then it slows down the pace and drive of the story (I’m not immune to this writing flaw). However, if you put in too little detail, then the danger becomes that readers will mentally fall back to a “standard.” That is, they may read onto the world a kind of generic medieval-Europe (or British Victorian or whatever) setting regardless if that is the one there. If a story is set in a Europe-inspired setting, then this is not a problem. But if the story is not meant to be set in that landscape, the writer (I think) has to invest a little more detail and explanation to differentiate their world from the sort of world people so often expect to see in, say, fantasy novels. Of course, again, too much detail and the narrative bogs down. The endless cycle thereby continues: What to show? What to leave out?

How do you write or read through this balance?


6 thoughts on “Maps (and miscellaneous)

  1. I’ve had my opinion of a secondary world fantasy lowered a little by the included map, because it was just a map of Europe flipped upside down.

    Regarding detail… I think describing what the characters perceive is the best way to go. Steam-powered streetcars or people sit on cushions on the floor instead of chairs would go against the “generic European” image. Or if the seasons are “dry” and “wet” rather than summer etc.

    Working in general information about the setting in little bits as extension to description can work, too. Say, including a snippet of information about a newly introduced character’s homecountry just after the viewpoint character places their accent.

    I tend to assume a relatively tight third person narration, and I guess my rule of the thumb is that if the viewpoint character doesn’t have a reason to think about something like history of politics in detail, describing them in detail is a badly written infodump.

  2. I do think that the more unfamiliar the territory, the more desirable description, over worldbuilding and description really are.

    I recently read a fantasy that takes a lot of common tropes and motifs from Western European fantasy, and while a map and more description would have been nice, because the architecture was so familiar, it wasn’t really necessary.

    Now, on the other hand, Throne of the Crescent Moon would have been a far lesser and less effective book if Saladin had not invested a lot of his energy in bringing the city to life for the reader.

    To use a real world analogy–I don’t need a map or a Garmin to go to the store, or even to a familiar distant place, such as the North Shore of Minnesota where I photograph waterfalls.

    If I decide to drive from here to Colorado or Chicago–you bet I will want both.

  3. Yes, excellent examples. I think that’s generally the best way to go, especially keeping to noticing the things that point of view characters would notice.

    I do think writers who are trying to work outside of a relatively “generic” (as in “typical of what has mostly been written before”) have a bit of an uphill climb to make it clear to the readers that this is not just another version of England, as it were.

    As for the “Europe flipped upside down” — can I ask what that was? Now I’m curious!

  4. That’s a good analogy.

    I adored the descriptions in THRONE OF THE CRESCENT MOON. I think Ahmed did an excellent job of having enough of them to really bring across the landscape/city, without having them ever feel like infodump. That’s a difficult balance to manage. I think one of the ways he managed it was to filter them through the characters’ love of the city.

  5. If I could put in a request — it would be for maps of the major towns they’ve traveled to. It’s like having a map of London when reading a Georgette Heyer novel or Sherlock Holmes. It helps to ground me in what’s where so I don’t get lost.

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