Tuesday, July 17, 2012

On fictional maps

It became popular for a while to add fictional maps to a work, particularly in fantasy work after Tolkien made his mark with The Hobbit and Lord Of The Rings. While maps have been included in fictional works for centuries it is only over the last century that they've really taken off and then settled into their place in the world of literature. Illustrations in adult literature remained fairly uncommon but maps have began to pop up everywhere. You may think them a little superfluous to the story or something that only those authors who want to be flashy make but in many cases maps are absolutely necessary to understand what was happening in a book, especially when readers find themselves tracking different armies or friends and foes about a complex landscape.

Middle Earth Map

And while the fad brought on by Tolkien's maps has died off to some extend, in both fantasy and science-fiction alike, maps are likely to remain a staple for any book or series of books that covers a vast region of land, multiple civilisations or battling worlds. They've become less of a shock and more of a pleasure to the reader and so they have found a place in reader expectations and experiences. There are very few readers of fantasy and science-fiction who haven't read Tolkien, Terry Pratchett or Robert Jordan, all of whom use maps extensively enough to place maps within the expected structure of a story alongside chapter headers (instead of chapter numbers). Maps aren't everywhere but they certainly aren't a shock or an annoyance to the reader.

Discworld map

These maps are born from the writer's mind but are often perfected by an in house artist. Having them made professionally is a good idea as any books that become popular enough often have the maps to then sold as collector items. That is, if the world the maps contain justify both a map and the fan following. The best of all these maps include detailed topographical notations and markers as do normal maps, lending more credibility to the story's landscape and thereby the story.

Star Trek Map

It is entirely possible to include maps for tiny regions as well as enormous regions. They can be spread over a double page within the book or can be made into foldouts or complimentary posters. The later choices are often only produced for highly popular books as there is an extra cost involved in the printing process that covers such additions. That said, there's nothing stopping an author of a book with a vast landscape from getting started on their own maps, drawing small localised sections of a larger landscape for each change of scenery while including a map of the wider area at the front of the book. This is a compromise though and as such may meet with some negative responses from publishers. But like they say, it can't hurt to try and if they're rejected you can just remove them, as long as your descriptions cover all the necessary details.

Wheel Of Time Map

Maps bring the world alive at the same time as they set the shape of it in our minds. They allow us to navigate freely and of our own volition see what dangers lie ahead, behind and around our favourite characters before they're even described to use. They leave us with a way of reading in three dimensions that's far more potent than simply describing with words. The possibilities offered by a map shouldn't be ignored, especially by those writing a series of books on characters that travel.

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