“No, put it there.” “No, over there.” “On the bureau, can’t you see?” “What bureau?” “The one in the bedroom!”

Discussions about space sometimes plague us. Where do we file that client information? Where do we put the new hire? Where do we store all the books that we bought? We just bought a new TV, now where do we put it? What about the bin for recycled goods?

This is true for our characters too. The worlds we create for them to inhabit are places that need to be as real to us as our own home. If we put a tree in the front yard in the morning, it better be there in the evening when our character comes home from work – or a neighbor cut it down, it fell over in a storm, or the city came and trimmed it. It can’t just go “poof.”

So… How do you keep your trees from going poof? Because, after all, tree poofage is a leading cause of stress among writers, according to a recent poll.

Maps!

That’s right, I said maps. Draw a map of your space. You can draw a map of a room, a house, a street, even a planet. Even if you can’t draw very well, you can at least sketch in the main points. Where IS that pesky tree, anyway? Who lives to the right of the house? The left? What’s the name of the street?

This is an old trick of fantasy authors, to draw maps of their worlds for readers to use. Some of them are quite elaborate and beautiful. But it can be useful even for “regular” world building. For example, in our upcoming release of BURNING BRIGHT, Rachel and I have a restaurant and bar called the Factory. We sat down and drew out how many tables there are on the main floor, where the bathrooms and kitchen are, the stairs, elevator, back door, and other elements are. That way, when our characters move around in the space we know what direction to turn them, what they see when they do it, and how to avoid walking them into walls.

Try it with your house. Take a piece of paper out of your printer, and a use a pencil. See if you can’t draw your home, starting at the property line. Mark where the driveway is. Where do you park? Imagine coming home from the grocery store, and follow yourself from the moment you shut off the engine. Do you go in the back or front door? What’s the room you enter when you first come inside? Where’s the kitchen? Bathroom? Bedroom? What’s in the back yard? (A tree?) Fill in details as you go and don’t be afraid to erase and start over. It takes practice, and it doesn’t have to be pretty – it just needs to be clear.

Tell me in the comments if you tried it, how did it go? Or, alternatively, how do you manage your imaginary worlds?

6 thoughts on “Wiley Wednesday: Mapmaking

  1. Nikki M says:

    Great reminder! As a reader I don't always track those kind of details, and it makes them hard to track them as a writer. I do better with characters – body positions, expressions, background, etc. Managing the setting details is something readers do notice, at least subconsciously, and it can really help set a story apart.

    I'm going to try planning out Gabe's house this weekend!

  2. Thanks, Nikki! I look forward to hearing how it goes for you, whether it makes Gabe's house more "real" to you or not.

    Do you keep character sheets of your characters? (Sort of a "map" for the character?)

  3. I'm terrible with maps; this sounds like a great challenge to make me think in a different way!

  4. Well, start small. You know that old saw, "write what you know"? Well, try it here. Pick the room you're sitting in right now. Draw a square on a piece of paper, and draw in the furniture. Use a rectangle for a couch, a small circle for a straight chair and an oval for a comfy chair, a square or rectangle for the desk, or table, etc. Draw in where the windows are, and the doors, etc. What do the doors lead to? (i.e. "door to outside, door to hall, door to bathroom") And there, you have your first map!

  5. I'm better with the maps than the character sheets. Which reminds me…

  6. LOL. Yeah, good point. It's easy to get behind with character sheets. 🙂

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