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Cartography (in Greek chartis = map and graphein = write) is the study and practice of making geographical maps. Combining science, aesthetics, and technique, cartography builds on the premise that reality can be modeled in ways that communicate spatial information effectively.

I suck at drawing. I suck so bad that if I draw a stick figure, it looks at me and gives me the finger. So when it comes to maps I am no good.

But why are maps important in speculative fiction?

Because they tell you the shape of the world/universe you created.

I mean, yes you can always do the old “Here be dragons” bit. That works fine when you’re on your first draft. All you need is a starting location and then you go from there. However, if you want to inject a sense of realism into your story (or at least create a logically consistent framework of reference) you need to start pinning down where everything is.

For example, your story begins in a charming village at the edge of a pine forest. That village could be anywhere. Then the Big Bad shows up and razes it to the ground. Now the hero has to pick himself from the ground, grab his father’s old (yet surprisingly non-rusty) sword and hunt down the murderer?

So where does he go?

To the Mile High mountains in search of one of the Big Bag’s henchman so beat some info- I mean question him on the where about of his master?

Go to the local lord’s castle and ask for help in his quest?

Perhaps go to the nearby city and warn them about the approaching army of darkness?

Go down into the bowels of a ruined temple and search for the Masterful Sword of Awesome Ass Whooping?

So where is it?

A three day ride to the south, across the Chasm of Doomed Idiots or over the Mountains of Nosebleed?

A gentle five week cruise across the Hell-O-Spont?

You can make it up as you go along, relying of massive amounts of handwavium to stave off the equally massive headache of graph paper that awaits you.

You might even pull it off.

So why bother with maps?

It’s a good way to keep everything straight. Think of a map as graphic note taking. As you build your narrative you build the map(s) which tells you where everything is in relation to everything else.

But that assumes that  your building your world as you write. Many a world builder starts big and works his way down. Or you can borrow from the “real world” (or existing fantasy worlds) and simply change/drop names of towns, cities and regions to your heart content.

Whatever your approach you should avoid the patchwork map syndrome. Yes, your world has magic or sufficiently advanced technology, still no need to be that lazy. High enough mountains will create rain shadows, the planet’s rotation will cause changes in temperature (and seasonal changes), rivers always flow to the ocean, etc.  Not only thus this gives you ye ole taste of realism (yummy!) but can give you ideas that expand your setting, characters and cultures. While the the debate between Nature and Nurture will outlast us all, no one can dismiss the impact the environment has on human (or alien) culture, so getting your maps right and by extension the geography, climate and other factors can really enhance your world as well as the readers experiences in it.

Now where did I leave that graph paper?

And because I never get tired of the anime, here your video of the day:

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2 Comments

  1. Heh-heh. What rude stick figures you draw! Really just refrain from giving them lip, and mayhap they’ll be kinder to you. Or better yet, draw them a cookie first. 🙂

    Great post 🙂

  2. Yes, they might be crude but they are powered by Snark(tm) a fearsome power source indeed. If I manage to draw them a cookie then the lolcats would probably eat it with folded ears and big sorrowful eyes. Oh yes, I don’t embed lolcats in my posts, they simply slip in one day and took over the blog.

    Very rude of them, but can you say no to them?

    I didn’t think so.

    Glad you liked it.


2 Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. By I got my NaNo 09! « Sturm und Drang on 05 Aug 2009 at 11:17 pm

    […] you probably guessed from my last few posts, I’ve been knee deep in world building, title writing and research. All of that leading to the NaNo kickoff on November 1st. I enjoyed […]

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