Dispatches from the Desk: The Joy of Cartography

I’ve been reading assorted histories, books on archaeology, architecture, and the like, and scribbling notes about characters as they begin to appear to me, but I’ve suddenly hit the point where all that has achieved enough solidity to need something under the feet to support it. Time to make a map.

I have a rough map, or a series of them, attached to maps for other parts of this world, but it’s a very sketchy outline, intended mostly to keep the world to scale and attempt to keep the mountains and rivers in realistic configurations. Now I need details. Usually, aside from the bare geographical outlines imposed by earlier works, I would leave the details to emerge as I write, but as I noted previously, I’m trying to work on this project with a bit more of a skeleton outline, or a word-map/itinerary of plot-landmarks of where the story is going, so I need more solidity to my real map. I can’t leave it to the characters to discover, because things will be happening all over which will affect them. I need distances and terrain in place before they ever set foot into the story. Parts of this one will be more like chess or go and less like searching for the source of the Nile.

My sketch map covers a whole continent and includes things that never make it into any book. It consists of sections of professional maps that were done to scale based on my ‘good’ maps, some of my ‘good’ maps, sketches done on the computer, and sketches done in a rather smudgy pencil in my notebook and scanned. Adjusting all those to the same scale and patching them together was a good day’s work, last winter. There’s a real map of part of the primary world underlying it, to keep me honest — I mean, to keep latitude and longitude, climate and distances, reasonable for a planet of our size. What I did today was cut out the relevant sections of the rough map into new files, over which I will put new layers, in order to draw a clean, good copy, on which I can begin laying the groundwork (hah!) for the plot, charting distances and times, and working out who needs to be where, when, and what they need to do on the way.

I need to come up with the right opening sentence, too. Get that right, and the whole first chapter will appear.


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: The Joy of Cartography

  1. vodyanoj says:

    I am curious: how did this project progress? I started The Leopard, realized that it would be better to go back to the beginning, so have just finished Storyteller, and am now diving into Blackdog with The Leopard next–and I would love to have access to one big map of the whole world. Imagine: only several dozens of pages in and I am already beginning to dwell on the history and geography of another secondary universe.

    And I thank you for that.

    • KV Johansen says:

      The mapping has kept growing as the story has grown. I had to expand it to the east when, after the end of The Lady, Ahjvar and Ghu headed towards Nabban, and I had to do a more detailed map of Nabban for Gods of Nabban. Now I’m working on what will probably be the final big story in the world and that means heading west of the Four Deserts to pin down what was vague even on my own sketch maps. There’s a pretty detailed map of this continent now — I put together my own huge one for writing from, and the map artist, Rhys Davies, who redraws my maps into more artistic form for the books, has just for fun done the same thing I did and pieced them all together (excluding the very western edge of the continent, which he didn’t have, and the southern continent, which has only been mentioned in passing so far — and Pirakul, which I haven’t had to map yet, though there’s a short story brewing that will take someone there …) I don’t know what the plans for Rhys’s ‘official’ continent map are. It’s possible the publisher might use it some day. I may at some point put my version online, though at present I won’t as I’m still scribbling on it, shifting rivers and adding names as I come to them. I tend to do that on printouts of small pieces, and only update the master PhotoShop file intermittantly.

      I’m glad you’re finding the world has so much reality!

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