As I mentioned last week, I recently engaged an actual cartographer, the immeasurable Soraya Corcoran, to create a new map for Newfield and just received the finished product last night. We’ll get to that in a second below, but I want to ramble a bit about fantasy maps while I got you here.
Now some fantasy authors (Mark Lawrence, I’m looking your direction), don’t really truck with the map, but I stand far on the opposite camp. There’s just something magical about fantasy maps, something that makes you want to hunker over them and trace the characters’ journey with your fingertip. Maps, to me, are an integral part of worldbuilding and just make the world seem more real and act as the key that unlocks all the possibilities of exploring this new world.
I still remember the first fantasy map I saw, which was for The Sword of Shannara back when I was probably eight or nine. I was entranced and imagined all the different environments and cities. Dragonlance maps were also some of my favorites, and to this day I stop several times during my reading to go back and examine the maps to get a better sense of where the characters are.
Fantasy maps can be a bit of a two-edged sword, as I learned firsthand. Yes, the can make the world feel more real, but they also then solidify the world and force the author to work within the parameters they’ve already established and canonized with cartography. Suddenly things like distance and travel time factor into the story, as does if they can make a straight shot or will pesky things like rivers and mountain ranges get in their way.
I had a basic mental outline of Newfield when I started writing The Woven Ring, and kept copious notes in my bible. And, the cheapskate that I am, I decided just to make the map myself in AutoREALM. I think it came out pretty well, all things considered, and am quite proud of what I came up with.
That said, there certainly is an amateur feel to the thing. What’s more, I fell into a trap of my own making. You see, as much as I loved the map of Shannara, even as a child I thought it was too empty. It only showed the six or seven spots that the characters traveled to in the story. Even to my kid’s brain this seemed wrong, and this emptiness has become one of my personal pet peeves when it comes to fantasy maps.
So of course I went to the opposite extreme and not only mapped out every state—some states the characters never even step into—but also gave them all state capitals. I also added major cities as well as minor ones for characters we don’t even meet directly. Yes, it made the world more real by adding additional detail, but it quickly overwhelmed the map, as my computer can attest as it chugged every time I opened the file add a new detail.
Enter Soraya, who helped put all this inundation of data into an intuitive form. She knew to add certain things like mountain ranges so as to make my state borders and rivers more believable, and to cut out the extraneous so the map would actually be useful to readers. Stuff like state names were removed in favor of the cities, and a key was brought into play so as not to overwhelm the image.
But enough babbling, here’s the new and improved Newfield in all its glory:
Seriously, that’s a work of art and I can’t be happier. This is going to replace the more utilitarian maps in the books… right after I print up a copy and hang it on my wall.
That said, I’m not ready to chuck my AutoREALM creation quite yet. As more and more readers turn away from dead tree editions, I think we’re missing a real opportunity in our maps on e-readers. There are those who prefer more information and want to be inundated with their maps. And for them I’m playing with an interactive map that will not only show you the cities themselves, but give facts and the like about them.
But that’s a project for future Matt. Right after he gets book three off to the proofreader…