Growing up, I was involved pretty heavily with my church, and while that part of my life has passed, many of those experiences (as all experiences do) shaped me into the person I am today. So, it’s no surprise that those experiences helped shape my writing and the worlds I create.
When I was in middle school, I had the amazing opportunity to travel to Jamaica on a mission trip. This was my first trip out of the country (sorry, Canada doesn’t count), and it was the farthest I’d ever flown on an airplane. Did I mention I was traveling to a third world country, one I knew next to nothing about? I was anxious, excited, and completely unsure of what to expect.
So, when I met Martin, it’s no surprise that he would turn into the basis of one of my most important characters.
Martin was one of the missionaries residing in Jamaica. He helped shuttle us around, introduced us to the people, and taught us about the culture and the land. I remember him being tall and intimidating, but he was charismatic in his own way. He had wide features and a deep voice, and I couldn’t help but listen to him any time he had something to say. I felt like I’d be missing something if I didn’t.
When I really got serious about The Chosen of the Light, I began rewriting and fleshing out my characters, turning them into real people. Most of my characters had always been real in my mind, so fleshing them out wasn’t too much of a problem, but there was one that I couldn’t get a grasp on. Nidic Waq, the prophet featured throughout my series, and arguably one of the most important characters. Spirit Summoner might be about Darr, but Darr is driven and guided by Nidic Waq.
My problem with Nidic Waq was I didn’t have a good handle on him. He was a wizard-type character in my mind, but that’s all I really had on him. Besides, he wasn’t a wizard, he was a prophet and a Spirit Summoner. He didn’t have any human characteristics, and I knew that had to change. No one in my life really seemed to embody the characteristics I imagined he should have, and so I had a difficult time trying to make him into a “real person”.
Martin, the missionary from Jamaica, finally helped me figure it out. Martin with his intimidating presence nonetheless drew me in and made me want to listen to whatever he had to say. He was the perfect basis for Nidic Waq. Of course, I gave my character my own little tweaks, making him exactly what I envisioned, but if it wasn’t for meeting Martin, I don’t know that he’d be the same character he is today.
I found out a couple years later that Martin had left his position as a missionary, turning away from friends and family, but that never discouraged me. If anything, it made me realize Martin, like Nidic Waq, was human, and prone to dreams and desires. I looked at Nidic Waq in an entirely new way, as a human who’d made certain decisions that led him in a certain direction. Maybe one day, his choices will take him down a different path.
I’ve always been into maps. I loved exploring when I was a kid, so drawing maps came fairly intuitively to me. In school I loved geography, learning places and land formations. I used to spend hours drawing maps, putting my imagination down on paper, putting myself into an entirely new world. When I began writing fantasy, my love for creating maps became an awesome new tool.
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.