June 15, 2011

map-making and inspiration

I’m a visual person. When it comes to writing or running a Dungeons & Dragons campaign, I have this need to create the world in which the story takes place, more so than with words. I like maps.

This is the setting for the first six levels of my Dungeons & Dragons 4th ed. campaign. It's drawn on parchment with a quill. Why, yes, I am in fact that nerdy.

This is of an entire country of a novel I started writing in high school and sadly never finished. The story was entirely too epic for my inexperienced teenage self, and after several rewrites and getting stuck at 25,000 words, I had to let it go. I hope to go back to it someday.  And this is the final map... The first map? See next.

This is of a world that I only ever imagined, conceived before I really began writing seriously. There are only a handful of handwritten pages concerning this world, cataloging the recent history of the main hero, and trade routes of all things.

I really like maps.

I always have, since I first started writing fantasy. Each location on the map has a story, a purpose, a cast of characters waiting to come to life. These places are real worlds in my head, if not yet on paper.

I draw inspiration from these things. Maps inspire me to create stories that will fit in such a world. Other drawings help me better say what it is I want to say in my writing. There are snippets of drawings in my office including automaton designs, character sketches, and quick interior design drawings.

When I'm stuck on a project, I often go to the drawing board... literally. I work out what I can't say by sketching.

I think primarily in pictures, usually moving pictures in full technicolor. My visual-spatial intelligence is my greatest asset, but seeing as my mind is most forgetful, I transcribe my thoughts to paper, sketching out buildings, kitchens, innkeepers, props and the like, because it's by far much easier to draw what I'm thinking rather than explain it. I'm much better at explaining, but that usually takes a lot of time and concentration. When I'm writing a narrative, I don't think about setting or the visual aspects of the world. That's something I have to do separately. I get too caught up in the character action to pay attention to where they're doing said action.

As it stands, I find pictures to be the most inspirational medium I have at my disposal. When I can't find the images within myself, I peruse the many pictures of DeviantART, finding inspiration in what other, better artists have concocted.

What about you? Do you draw maps or sketch characters during the writing process? Do you think in pictures or words? Do you draw inspiration from artwork?


  1. Wow! I am so impressed, Brooke. Although I think visually, I do not have the artistic skill you do. Your maps are great and interesting.

    I've seen sketches JK Rowling made of her characters and places while writing, and they're pretty good too. Seems she thinks in a similar method to you! :-)

    Who did the picture for the steampunk?

  2. I absolutely LOVE maps! Any and all maps. Being a DM and also a fantasy writer map-making is like my third passion. Behind writing and RPGs! I think this is the best map I've made. And it is still in the process of being made. ( http://tugbotg.blogspot.com/2011/04/lately-ive-been-watching-all-movies-i.html )

    I do what you said (I think) I map and then I try to figure out what kind of people live there and what sort of stories they have to tell. Their history and whatnot.

    And yes to the inspiration from artwork. Sometimes (and this sounds corny) my heart starts beating fast and I get all giddy when I'm overly excited/inspired by art. My mind just starts going crazy!

  3. Susan, the link for the art is in the caption ;)

    Harkness, map-making is so much fun, and such a time-suck. I could spend hours working on maps and never do anything with them. Thanks for the comment!

  4. Yeah, me too. I could spend far too much time drawing maps and not doing much with them. I'm not nearly as artistic with my maps as you are though.

    I don't think notes about trade routes are a bad thing — those are the most likely routes anyone (including the hero) would take to get from Point A to Point B. What they trade could influence the story as well.

  5. See, this is where writing in tandem with someone plays into my favor. I'm terrible at maps. HORRID. But Thomas is much more spatially aware than I am, so he can listen to what I explain and draw it out. Most of our maps have come about under the tip of his pencil.

    The use of maps while writing, I have to agree, is something that brings thoughts together without detracting from the story. It's nice to know whether or not you're heading through town to the north or south and what you'll run into. :D