Using maps was important for me, especially early on in the writing process. I had tons of ideas and characters rolling around in my head, held together by a loose plot. My story was in my head, but organizing my thoughts challenged me in a completely new way. I began writing my story down, stringing my plot together slowly but surely. Somewhere along the line, I got the idea to draw a map.
Finally, a solution to my problem of organizing everything. After drawing my map, I began to see the big picture. I wasn’t exactly writing one story. No. I was writing about a fragment of time in a massive new world. Suddenly, the plot for this one story didn’t seem like such a challenge, because there was an entire world here. Finally, I could begin writing without worrying about knowing every detail.
Another important aspect of using the world map to assist my writing is reference. Not only could I look at my map at any time in order to remember the bigger picture, I used it to discover flaws. In my head, before I could see the orientation of my world, things seemed closer together and much easier to travel. I’d often forget distances or even how one location would stand in reference to another.
With my map in place, I could glance at it any time during the writing process, sort of like looking at notes. The relation of landmark to my characters became much easier to navigate, and I could adjust the plot as such.
As I wrote my first book, oftentimes I’d find something in the map that I hadn’t seen before, some nook or cranny that deserved some attention. My original design for Ictar was an island continent, so I’d begin to see islands or other large land masses forming in the oceans surrounding it. These thoughts began as an entertaining thought, but as my imagination churned with ideas, future stories took shape.
The map became a door into the future for me. Not only could I see the big picture, the world in which my current story was taking place, but I could see the past and the future of the world as well. New parts of my world manifested themselves all the time, and each time, my imagination took flight.
Perhaps the best part of using a map is the sense of reality you get from it. A story is a story, but when you see a map, showing you the world, not just the story, you get a much better perception of the world. Fantasy books have had maps for as long as I can remember, each differing in many ways. Some are simple, some are detailed, but they all give you a sense of the size of the world. My favorite thing to do in a fantasy book with a map is to check off locations I’ve visited as I read and look ahead to see where the story might be going. Sometimes, not all the locations are used, and it always leaves me wondering what’s next for the hero.
The map allows the writer and the reader both to step into the same world. The words a writer puts on the page are sometimes unclear, but the map brings both parties to the same table, seeing the world as it was intended to be seen.