There are a lot of fictional books that have maps in them. Sometimes it’s just a large region or world map, indicating what the major landmarks are. Sometimes there are several maps, depicting everything from the region down to city street maps, so that a reader may follow the characters every step of the way. But how often do we really refer to those maps when reading?
As A Reader
When I open a new book to read, I’m intrigued when I find a map. I will usually study it for a few minutes before I begin to read the book. I do like maps, and so I’m always curious to see the world that the author has created.
There are a few fictional maps I know extremely well. J.R.R. Tolkien is the best example; I have a large map of Middle Earth hanging on my living room wall. This is one fictional world where I pour over the atlas and appendices to examine every corner of the maps that I can. There is just so much information to absorb, and so much you can learn about the stories just by reading the maps.
Yet there are many, many books that contain maps that I never give a second glance too. After seeing that there is a map of the overall land, I’m not that concerned with exactly where the characters traveled – I’m more interested in the story of how they did it. I’m not exactly sure why, but I suspect that the more complex the story, the more I’m interested in the map. If the world contains multiple lands with many lords, armies, or allegiances, the geography can be vital to the story. But if the story is not so complex, and it just features a character traveling a road from point A to point B, I’m less concerned about how that road functions in the greater layout of the land.
So I think it’s pretty safe to say that I, as a reader, generally don’t refer to the maps frequently when reading. But in talking with friends, I recognize that some people do refer to them quite often, and are disappointed when a map is absent from a book.
As A Writer
Even though I don’t always refer to maps as a reader, I’ve made an interesting discovery as a writer. In the story I’m currently working on there is a lot of traveling with stops at several towns and landmarks. I had given vague thought of how my world would be shaped, but I hadn’t done any serious planning. Yet as I was writing I found myself struggling with awkward sentences simply because I wasn’t sure where my characters were going. Sending a character “North” isn’t exactly descriptive.
So I drew a map.
I can’t even tell you how amazingly clear this map made everything in my story.
Having a visual of the world I created was fascinating – suddenly everything was working. I am now able to draw a line and see where my characters need to travel, and the pieces of writing I still need to do to be able to connect the dots. It’s funny how everything works together; now my timeline makes more sense, I know which landmarks I need to emphasize, and the giant plot hole where I had no idea how to get my characters from this part to that part solved itself because I saw how to connect them on the map.
While having a map didn’t solve every problem I had, I have to admit it did wonders for furthering my story. It was a rewarding experience, and I’m already looking forward to writing another story – and drawing another map.
Maps are not for everyone. Some people love them, and some people hate them. For those who love them it can be exciting to see the paths and travels of the characters clearly, and follow their journey across the land. Being able to create such paths is inspiring, and I would suggest for other writers to try making a map too. Who knows that kinds of marvelous worlds you will create.