I was lounging in The Chairs at Miscon 32 with a friend, Jeff Howe. We hadn’t seen each other in a year, so we were catching up on each other’s lives. He mentioned he was going to use some old National Geographic maps as story prompts. Enamored with this brilliance, I told him I’d be sharing it with my blog readers.

Ta-dah! You’re welcome.

I use New Scientist for this same reason. I read each issue and listen for a conflict or …but why? or what if? idea to strike. Then, I rip out that page and store it in my writing box. Also, did you know if you get a weekly subscription, they mail you one of those suckers EVERY week? *eyes uneven stack* I can’t keep up!

Serendipitously, one of the panels this year was on maps in writing. Lee Moyer, Brenda Carre, and Lauren Patton were the panelists. Each brought a unique viewpoint on maps – Lee is an artist, Brenda taught maps for years, and Lauren’s husband was a mapmaker.

One of the revelations to me was that anything can be a map: from a coastline carved into a piece of wood to be used by touch to a grocery store list to the stops on a subway to the MRI of your brain. Also? Mapmakers lie. There is bias in map-making.

Is nothing sacred, people?


Others have written about how Tolkien’s maps are complete nonsense. So, don’t stress if your map isn’t geographically possible. You would be in good company.

Having said that, you can try to think about which way water flows or distance for your travelers and what that means to your plot and cultures. Even your word choices will change depending on the geography you create.

A recommendation for those of us who can’t draw was the program Sketch Up. I’ve also seen people use the outline of spilled coffee, a handful of thrown dice to illuminate topography, and overlaying your world on top of a famous city. All of these are accessible and can be personalized to your needs.

Sounds fun, yes?

4 thoughts on “MAPS!

  1. I once wrote (java programming) a map-generation program for a strategy game. It took months to write, and running the program would bring a server to a crawl for days.

    At the end, though, was a brilliant map! Mountains, forests, jungles, everything. All displayed in pixels and divided into regions for gameplay. It was pretty fun.

    Reminds me, I wrote a second one, too, for a different game I never finished… I’ve got it around here somewhere.

    Anyway, yeah, maps are cool!

    1. You are way ahead of the game. My maps tend toward sharp lines and circles with a compass in the corner. I find I need directional cues more than anything else at this stage of my writing.

      I really should do a map first someday, and then write the story I grow from the land.

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