Tuesday, March 23, 2010

The Crafting of a City Map

My propensity for doing a lot of research is well-known across various people's blogs (and now on Twitter), but perhaps less well-known is my need to do a lot of background figuring because of this.

One of the criticisms I got from my fantabulous betas (you know who you are) was the lack of a sense of place/time differential when Moriah travels through the city of Callarion. The easiest way to fix this is to design a map of the city. However, one of the problems with doing such a thing is my lack of any drawing ability whatsoever. Instead of drawing that map then, I've decided to craft some background information on architecture and distances in various parts of the city.

This amounts to yet more research (and some unrepentant cribbing of real places) to craft the exact city map that I need in order to give the city its verisimilitude. So far, today, I've written capsules on Marketplace, Quayside, and Woodsedge (three districts of the city) and will at some point finish the ones on Lowtown, Academe, and Gardens Hill as well.

The map and geography that I'm using for Callarion borrows from three places -- Rome, San Francisco, and San Diego. San Fran and San Diego provided the proper winding coastline that I imagined, and Rome's Seven Hills provided the basis for what I kind of wanted to do terrain-wise (turns out Callarion's looking more and more like San Francisco by the minute, but that's beside the point).

What purpose does all this serve? Perhaps the biggest benefit to doing this is having a map means I don't accidentally place Thomas's shop in two different sections of Marketplace. It also means Gardens Hill consistently stays in the center of the city, and other landmarks start to gain more and more importance because they're located in a concrete place in the fictional city. Correction: the biggest benefit is that my distances stay the same. That's important, because I can't have Moriah cross Marketplace on foot at two different speeds. There lies inconsistencies my friend.

And I very much dislike being inconsistent (which is why I always like people to point out when I am). What about you, loyal blog readers? Do you craft maps of your settings? Or do you let it fly like Terry Pratchett, who's of the opinion that "You can't map a sense of humor"?


Stephanie Thornton said...

I think it's interesting how different brains work with spatial concepts. My husband excels at this, but me? Not so much.

When I read, I don't care much about districts and such, unless I've been to the actual place. I have to see it for it to actually be grounded in reality, and sometimes that doesn't even work. The book Killer Angels includes maps of the Battle of Gettysburg, but my brain simply doesn't process that stuff. Once I've been there and seen Little Round Top and Cemetery Ridge, then I can see it.

L. T. Host said...

I found my fictional town (at least by geographical features) in V on a google map in Alabama. I scribbled over that where things were in MY version of the town, and used that to move around. It really, really helps-- things are much more concrete in the reader's brain if they're concrete in your own.

Shannon O'Donnell said...

I'm lucky because I write PB's and chapter books. So far, the chapter books I've written haven't required much land detail. I think mapping would be difficult.

Susan R. Mills said...

I don't map out my settings. I prefer to keep them simple. Yet another good reason for me to write contemporary YA. I am in awe of your dedication to the process.

Joshua McCune said...

I once did a large scale map for an epic fantasy, but city maps never really mattered. Now, given today's interactive age, you could have a map accompany your book... have a trail of M (Indian Jones style) as she goes from point A to point Z.

dolorah said...

I've only written contempory, and the map is already in my head because I lived in the city most of my life. Sure makes things easier that way.

Now I'm starting on a fantasy, and needing to draw up a world. Yeah, now I'm in for some reasearch, because I'm thinking an Ireland or Scotland type terraine.

I'll be begging to borrow your skills at some point I'm sure.

But, I like the idea of ancient Rome as a reference. I look at some pictures and it blows me away how modern it appears. No cars, but still, the architecture is awesome.

Good luck and have fun.


Andrew Rosenberg said...

You just get some kind of virtual city simulator that emulates how a city grows. My problem is trying to remember all the different kinds of buildings and activities in a city, from administration to garbage collection to the sex trade.

Then try to build a floating city and you're doubly screwed. :)

Adam Heine said...

I love crafting maps, though I only tend to do it for a world or vital cities. Though the story should make perfect sense without a map. Apparently some readers skip them entirely!

Susan Kaye Quinn said...

I recently mapped out an entire encampment for my WIP, because I had to figure out the perimeter defenses and make sure there weren't any (literal or figurative) holes. But I only resort to this kind of detail when I feel like I haven't fully crafted something in my head (and with words) - so sometimes I need the visual aid, but mostly I get by with the noggin. However, it would horrify me to actually show these drawings to anyone. They stink.