Thursday, September 18, 2008

East o' the Sunroom, West o' the Moonlit Road

Writing a draft is like making a map. What you are mapping is up to you.

If you imagine yourself outside, you will test roads, find crossways and connections, name streets, and never be satisfied with what you've been told about a place. You will go down ill-used paths until you can look beyond the flat edge of the end of the world---here be dragons!

If you see yourself as map-making inside, you will knock on closet backs to check for hidden passages, tear down walls if you suspect doors behind them, and crawl into tight spaces. You will measure a room in the steps of your character. And lie down on your back to examine the ceiling.


Because then you will lay out your findings in an organized way so that others may explore the same paths, see things they didn't know were there, visit little known attractions, discover short (or long) cuts, realize one land lies beside another, and perhaps find a trapdoor to a populated underground or a ladder to a long undisturbed attic.

You're asking your readers to risk a mountain because you named it and marked one route. I've dared valleys because someone has gone in before me and assures me they will lead me out. Even a house that I've been inside a thousand times is worthy of rediscovery when someone hands me a floorplan and tells me the history of how the backstairs were added.

Fellow blogger Jennifer Thermes is reading Mapmaking with Children: Sense of Place Education for the Elementary Years and has Maps of the Imagination: The Writer as Cartographer on her TBR pile. Jennifer creates maps for a living.

What's the last map you drew? Why?

P.S. I love a good map in a book. Do you? Here's a blog post from The Map Room devoted to Imaginary Places.


  1. I have to confess, I think a secret part of me always wanted to be a cartographer, but not a real one. I wanted to draw intricate maps of imaginary places and name them and imagine what went on there. For some reason I never thought to write about those places on my undrawn imaginary maps.

    Now I find am setting all my fiction in the same fictitious town (who do I think I am, Faulkner?) and I'm feeling the need to map the town out just so I can keep track of everything logistically. It would make perfect sense, and bring me full circle to my early pre-writing days.

    By the way, I have to also say, I end up having more memories and personal reflections rooted out of their hidey holes from reading your blog and your writing, Sara. I think part of you might be an agent of change, if that doesn't sound too hokey or New Age-y. Perhaps we are members of the same karass (I should be so lucky)...

  2. Thanks, David. I shall put "rooting memories and reflections out of hidey-holes" proudly on my resume. Or should I say, my career map.

    Please, please, if you make that map of your fictional town, see if you can slip it into your finished books. (I know, you're gonna say: not there yet. But WHEN.) Advance thanks from those of us who are continually lost in real life and don't like to be in books.

  3. This is SO interesting. I'm not a mapmaker per se, but my husband is a community planner and he just lives at the drafting table with rolls and rolls of maps. We sometimes get his hand-me-downs and once the girls and I spent days 3-D-afying the whole thing, with rocks and blocks and glass beads and pennies. It was like prayer, honestly...

  4. I know this is super late to add a comment, but I had marked this entry to read again and just wanted to tell you how lovely it is. I'd love to see you work it into a poem - it's almost one already.

  5. It's never, ever too late to comment. And good idea about transforming it into a poem...maybe I'll see where that map leads...

  6. Coming back to haunt... Thought you'd like to hear that while I *should* be revising my middle grade story I am instead finding myself compelled to make a map of this town I'm writing about.

    Since it's based on a real place, and I like playing with maps and details, I'm using maps of real places and cobbling different cities together to make my imaginary one. Once the collage map is done I'm going to redraw it with my story details included. One day, perhaps, this map will appear, but I have to finish the book first! I mean second!

  7. David, sounds to me like the map making is necessary to the book making. Follow the compulsion!


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