Dispatches from the desk #14: the earth moved

Not an earthquake, just a major revision of my map. This isn’t the published map; the current book, which is intended as a sequel to Blackdog, shifts the action eastwards, beyond the Malagru Mountains, which form the eastern edge of the Blackdog map. It’s always difficult to change the reality of the geography in my head, once I’ve drawn my first rough map. I’m two-thirds of the way through this story, and have reached the point where, in my personal writing metaphor-landscape, I am no longer travelling on the dark and overhung forest trails, discovering my path peters out to a dead end, becoming mired in deep bogs, and having to backtrack to find the right path. I’m into the foothills and the way to the summit is pretty clear, plot-wise, character-story-wise. Unfortunately, ever since assorted people set out on their various roads I’ve been having worse than usual trouble getting everyone to dance together, as it were. The eastern map’s been nagging at me for a long time as not-quite-right, and that’s at the root of many of the difficulties.

I think the problem is that I’m Canadian. I live in the second-largest country in the world, exceeded in physical size only by Russia. Things are very far away from other things. It seems perfectly natural for a nation to take up the width of a continent. Without thinking about it, I tend to make my maps rather vast. This was fine for Blackdog, with its setting inspired by the Central Asian stretch of the Silk Road; vast was appropriate. The caravan road continues through this story, but the action takes place in a much smaller area. (Er, that is, it should. One city-state and one neighbouring people, with a brief diversion into a second.) A cluster of sparsely-populated tribal kingdoms do not really need all that space. In fact, it’s utterly ridiculous. But it was on the map … I was trying to fit a story onto a map that was entirely the wrong scale for it, and treating the map, never yet published or redrawn into art as Rhys Davies did with the Blackdog territory, as some set-in-geology reality the story had to adhere to. Nobody in Blackdog or “The Storyteller” goes east of Marakand; there was no established reality beyond a few fixed points that were nothing but names. Gah! Tell me, is it easier to scribble a few lines in PhotoShop, or to rewrite two-thirds of a novel to reschedule everyone’s travels? And why do I do this? I changed the map for the new Torrie book halfway through, as the story went its own way, and that was swift and effortless. Why did this one feel so particularly real and hard to revise?

Once I heaved the great sigh and told myself, This is WRONG — fix it NOW, it was actually fun. I did the map first, rather than the story, so as to have a stable reference once I began moving characters and (very small) armies about. A great gulf swept in from the sea to the south. Cities retreated before the flood (that would be the eraser), planting themselves a good way further north. And most importantly, the small cluster of tribal kingdoms in which half the story takes place scrunched themselves up in the north-east corner where they had always belonged. They’re still a bit on the large side, I think, but not ridiculously so, and, you know, they need lots of grazing land . . . Well, I’m going to leave it alone now. It was a good excuse to go through the story and give the whole thing-up-to-now another polish, anyway, and in the process it became obvious Moth was about to do something unexpected, which is always good. (And that had nothing to do with the geography, really.) Now I just need to write and insert that chapter, before I carry on with the last phase.

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About K.V. Johansen

The author of Blackdog, The Leopard, The Lady, and Gods of Nabban, epic fantasies from Pyr, I also write for teens and children, including the "Torrie", "Warlocks of Talverdin", and "Cassandra Virus" series, and the "Pippin and Mabel" picture books, as well as a couple of short story collections and two works of adult literary criticism on the history of children's fantasy literature. I have a Master's degree in Mediaeval Studies, and read a lot of fantasy, science fiction, and history. Blog at thewildforest.wordpress.com
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2 Responses to Dispatches from the desk #14: the earth moved

  1. Hang in there. It will be SPECTACULAR, as usual, once it is all together. On the other hand, I don’t want to discourage your obvious obsession with geographical exactitude, as that sort of attention to detail is what makes your books so wonderful… And WHEN is Talverdin #5 coming out?

  2. KV Johansen says:

    Someday I hope there will be a fifth Warlocks of Talverdin, though it will actually fall between Nightwalker and Treason in the sequence. There are passing references to the events of it in Treason and Warden. But when … that I don’t know.

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