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MAPS. Yay (Mountains!) or nay (Where does this path go?)

Discussion in 'World Building' started by CF WELBURN, Sep 17, 2017.

  1. CF WELBURN

    CF WELBURN Dreamer

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    I love a good map. Close my eyes and I can still see Tolkien's lonely mountain flanked by Smaug, and Ursula Le Guin's Earthsea deserves to be framed on a wall... (Interestingly enough I read somewhere that the whole concept of Le Guin's Earthsea started by drawing the map, and then creating the story from there...)

    But can they make a world seem too safe? Too explored? Should we not wander lost, finding out what's over that ridge, beyond that dark hill in words, and not in a predefined image? Imagine earth before we knew what lay across the ocean. That sense of wonder we can now only get by looking at the stars...

    As a reader I used to pause the story to flick back to the map page to see exactly where this city or region we were being introduced to lay. Recently I've found myself doing this less...

    I'm toying with the idea of including a map, on say page 536 (random number), when the adventurer becomes privy to the information (or perhaps having charted it themselves after personal hardship and exploration).
    Why should the reader know more than the protagonist whose world we are merely visiting?

    Of course this is all relative and highly dependent on the style, POV... If we're talking about worlds with millennia of history and politics, then it helps to see them defined... Westeros or the Malazan Empire or even the entire planet of Arrakis for example...

    What are your thoughts in general, and related to your own writing projects?
     
  2. Devor

    Devor Fiery Keeper of the Hat Moderator

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    It depends, of course. Travel is a big part of Tolkein's work, and including a map which the characters would have known was probably an easy call. And Westeros is too bloody complex not to have a map. For my setting I have too much going on to not offer up a map. But each story is different and has different needs. Especially if there's a transition from a simpler, more personal story out to a broader, more plot-centric one, then a midway map could be a good way of making that moment more powerful.
     
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  3. You could have big blank swaths which just say "DON'T GO HERE" lol
     
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  4. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

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    Maybe the characters could encounter the map. If it's some secret, then it would be a discovered map. If it's not really a secret but just entering a previously-unknown area, they might see the map in a book, or someone could sketch it (allowing you to do home-made maps). That way there would be a logical reason for the map appearing where it does in the text.
     
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  5. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

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    Then a chapter heading, "Oh, You Went There"

    *grimace*
     
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  6. CupofJoe

    CupofJoe Myth Weaver

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    I've seen an unreliable map used. The characters [and the reader] had a map but it was out of date and not that well cartogrophied [not a real word I know]. It continually let then down but was still better than nothing.
     
  7. ThinkerX

    ThinkerX Myth Weaver

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    Depends on the world and the characters. I once read an SF novel featuring convicts dropped onto a desert world. They weren't able to piece together a map until the middle of the story. I have also read tales where the protagonists are cartographers with up to date maps.

    If my hazy memory serves, 'Line' or 'Linear' maps were a big thing in the ancient world - maps or descriptions that described a specific route between two cities, with little or no detail about lands or towns off that route.

    Medieval maps had the habit of trying to make Jerusalem the center of the world, which led to some interesting distortions.

    Complicating all this were large numbers of folks who believed the world to be flat, and others who accepted a spherical earth, but with greatly understated dimensions (this didn't get properly cleared up until the 16th century, and featured into Columbus's scheme to reach China by sailing west.)
     
  8. You guys bring up interesting thoughts in my head. Would the characters have an accurate map? Would perceptions of the world at the time allow for one?

    If the characters don't have an accurate map, should you give the reader one?
     
  9. wirehead

    wirehead Acolyte

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    Metaphorically speaking, it depends on if you want the map to be at the beginning of the book or books or the end. :)
     
  10. ThinkerX

    ThinkerX Myth Weaver

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    Principle nation of my principle world is Solaria. The academic (not political) center of Solaria is the University at Solace. Those scholars, to my way of thinking, have the best geographical knowledge on the planet, and I made my (literal) world maps with that knowledge in mind.

    Those global maps show a fair to good depiction of about 70% of the northern hemisphere from the Equator up to around latitude +60, give or take a bit. Their knowledge of the southern hemisphere is...patchy at best, and peters out at around latitude -30 (there is a sizable southern sea which is little more than rumor to Solaces geographers, among other things)

    My global maps reflect all this. The vast majority of characters, of course, do not have access to those maps, and the geographical knowledge is far more constrained.
     
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  11. FifthView

    FifthView Istar

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    I recently finished watching S4 of the History Channel's The Vikings, and Bjorn Lothbrok sets off for the Mediterranean (where no Viking has gone before) using a map that looks to us, the viewers, as really weird because it's not accurate. He's wanting to find a way to the Mediterranean that doesn't require sailing along the coast of Francia because his uncle, a former Viking, betrayed the Vikings, married the daughter of the king of Francia, and might attack them on their journey. (I think at this time Francia was most of Europe, so we're talking about the coasts of France and Spain here, or most of Spain.)

    But there's actually no other way for him to get to the Mediterranean.

    In the show, Bjorn actually meets with his uncle to ask for safe passage. Long story short, his uncle whips out a much larger, more accurate map of the Mediterranean.

    The show takes place in the second half of the 10th C. For me, it's a little amazing that Vikings would have any sort of map of the Mediterranean at all. I think this was explained this way: In the previous season, they'd invaded Paris, capital of Francia I think, and that's where they found this map. It was part of the loot. Funny enough, the "better" map his uncle provides was also from Francia. So even then, getting a 2.0 version could help, hah.

    Nearly accurate world maps didn't appear until very near the end of the 19th C. I think, but there have been maps for much longer than that. I'm being generous with the modifier "nearly." Antarctica wasn't discovered until the early 19th C (by sight) and landed on near the end of that century, so it remained largely unknown until relatively recently. Imagine drawing a map for your out-of-town cousin, directions to a local garage, using just pencil and paper. It might not look great and might not include a lot of things, but still be somewhat serviceable. Many early maps were like that: serviceable. They didn't need lots of accuracy, especially the farther out you go.

    I'm assuming your cousin wouldn't have a Google Maps app on his phone, heh.

    The above doesn't really address the issue of maps of fantasy worlds. The Viking map could look weird to viewers because we know the real shape of the Mediterranean. But we wouldn't know the "real" shape of that fantasy world. So this is an odd little thought to consider.

    Edit: Probably, how we define "accurate" would make a large difference. Somewhat accurate world maps appeared in the 18th C., although they didn't include Antarctica. Some of those included a large land mass at the South Pole, but this wasn't from actual knowledge of Antarctica but an old theory that the southern half of the world must obviously have something to "balance out" the known land masses in the northern hemisphere. So some map makers included something down there, heh.

    But to the more specific point of fantasy maps...I think there might often be a difference between what some scholar or king would have in his library and what the average explorer might be able to acquire. Largely land-based powers might have more accurate maps of the interior of continents whereas seafaring cultures might have more accurate maps of coastlines. Depends on the fantasy world of course.
     
    Last edited: Sep 19, 2017
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  12. WooHooMan

    WooHooMan Auror

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    I'm working on an animated map which illustrates political, geographical and culture changes over roughly 5,000 years. I think that stuff is much, much more interesting than "this mountain is here and this river is there". History is a story, geography isn't.

    I'm hoping that with online/digital distribution becoming more prominent for fantasy writers, gimmicks like interactive or animated maps become more common.
     
  13. Corwynn

    Corwynn Troubadour

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    One of my personal pet peeves when it comes to fantasy maps is square continents and countries. The main continent in Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time series is by far the worst and most obvious offender: the coasts, rivers, and mountain ranges all line up at almost perfect right angles. Tamriel from The Elder Scrolls series is a bit better, but it still has a very blocky overall shape, especially in the eastern half. Even Tolkien fell into this with Mordor, although he did a good job with the rest of Middle Earth.

    I want to avoid this to prevent my maps looking fake. However, in trying to do this, I can see why people fall into this. It is very difficult to make a non-rectangular shape fit onto a rectangular page. Every time I try, I either go off the edge, or end up bending the landforms to make them fit.

    I've had a devil of a time trying to make a satisfactory map for Hualketh (the country that serves as the main setting for my stories). Hualketh's geography is based on north-western North America, and if you look at that part of the world, you will see that it arcs from a north-south orientation to an east-west one. I want Hualketh to do the same thing more or less, but every time I try to draw it, I either run out of space, or I end up with an upside down L shape instead of a gentle curve. I'm trying to figure out a way to get around the problem.
     
  14. Malik

    Malik Archmage

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    In my series, the map the reader has is much more accurate than anything the characters have access to.

    A key plot point in Book II has the MCs team looking for a mountain pass while being tracked. I want the reader to pull their hair out: "You idiot! It's on the left! LEFT!"
     
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  15. FifthView

    FifthView Istar

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    The characters in many fantasy worlds will often have a good idea of which countries exist and where they exist, the peoples that exist in the East and West and North and South. Readers coming into this strange new world won't. Giving readers a good map to reference helps to bring the readers up to speed and up to the levels of the characters (in this regard at least.)

    Edit: I.e., getting their bearings.

    For me personally, I like the ability to flip to the map and remind myself of what is where. Without a map, the writer could mention this land or that in a scene, but five chapters later I might not remember the exact layout. The characters in the book who are aware of those lands will probably have grown up with that knowledge; it's ingrained. It'd be like someone mentioning Canada and Mexico and me, in the U.S., already knowing exactly where they are.

    I do think that POV might somewhat play a role. Having an accurate map with more detail than the main characters know about the world is a bit like having an omniscient POV introduced to the story. I suppose if I wanted an absolutely tight POV for the whole thing, I might consider not including a detailed map of the whole world at the beginning. I could maybe have a more sketchy map, something that approximates the POV character's knowledge of the world. Or not. (I've not given this idea much thought before now, heh.)
     
    Last edited: Sep 21, 2017
  16. pmmg

    pmmg Auror

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    I have a map of the world I am writing in, but the characters themselves would only really know their own local area and have a vague idea of some lands beyond. The MC probably does not even know the local area all that well, and just knows the next nation is somewhere in that direction. The map however keeps changing in my head. A great deal of the local area is pretty well fleshed out, but the area beyond are still grey to me. Fortunately, I have not published anything, so I have room to change.

    I have on my todo list to actually draw out and detailed map of the local area, but I am not sure when I will ever get to it. The crude one has been sufficient so far, and I know its lay out in my own head. The world is not one that is greatly explored, so there would be a large part of it that is just unknown.

    I like having maps at the front of the book, but I do find I don't use them as I might have in the past.
     
  17. pmmg

    pmmg Auror

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    In response to some other comments, I don't know what I might think of an unreliable map provided at the front of the book. I don't know if I would do what Malik is hoping, referring back and shouting at the characters that they got it wrong, but I would expect the map provided to be accurate, even if the characters do not quite know all its ins and outs. If the map is not reliable, I would need some indication of that or I would feel its a little silly to include it.
     
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