A Least Favorite Job

Words Into Terrain

Last week, I promised to reveal what is one of my least favorite jobs as a writer.  It’s making maps.

You’d think that as a long-time gamer, I’d have mapping down to a science.  I mean, I’ve been gaming since I was not quite eighteen, and have been running games for almost as long.  But, nope.  It doesn’t work that way.  Lately, when our games need more detail, gamer Rowan (also cover artist for Asphodel) takes my rough drawing and starts gridding.  She’s amazing that way.

I have no trouble envisioning the terrain in which my stories are set.  I just don’t seem to be able to draw it.  For many stories, I don’t need a map.  Maybe I can access real maps of the locations involved, as I did for Child of a Rainless Year or Thirteen Orphans and the other “Breaking the Wall” novels.  Or maybe the focus is tight enough or on something other than moving through a landscape, so I don’t need a map.

Or maybe I can get away with a very general map, noting where locations are in relation to other locations.  That’s what I did with the early Firekeeper novels, although later I needed more detailed maps.

So, what do I do when I need a detailed map?  I turn to my husband, Jim.  As many of you already know, Jim’s an archeologist, and making maps is a part of his professional tool kit.  The maps he draws are very detailed, and even include elevations, which is definitely useful when the challenge of crossing a bit of terrain is part of the story.

When Jim needs to help me out, I start by giving him a verbal portrait of the landscape, including the rationale behind various terrain features.  This narration is often accompanied by a rough map by me, drawn not with images, but with words.  Jim then translates this into a sketch, which, in turn, often reveals to me additional ramifications of the terrain.

Sometimes these ramifications even become plot points.

We’re still roughing out the current map, but you can get a glimpse of Jim’s work, as well as the very little he has to work from, in the accompanying photo.

Now, off to do what I like doing far more than I like cartography.  Writing!

4 Responses to “A Least Favorite Job”

  1. James Mendur Says:

    I had a roommate who gave me a copy of Thorin’s Map on 8×10 parchment because he made a mistake and dropped a spot of ink on it. I used to bring it to conventions and whenever someone mentioned The Hobbit, I’d pull it out and casually mention I took it off the body of a dead Dwarf. That usually got a smile and the occasional “Ooh Ahh” at the map.

    For a brief period, I photcopied maps from F&SF novels, with a thought of producing handmade copies as artwork for my walls. But the mapmaking was too time-intensive for me. (I might still have the photocopies of the maps from the books … someplace.)

    • janelindskold Says:

      Maps really do engage and say a lot about a culture as well. I have a friend who collects old maps, and seeing how various land areas are represented is fascinating. I appreciate them. I just can’t draw them!

  2. anevergreen Says:

    I don’t even like looking at maps. When I open a book and it’s got a super-elaborate map, I get worried I won’t like the book.

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