I was engaging in one of my guilty pleasures, rewatching Conan the Barbarian, and got curious about Conan’s origin. So off I went, down the delightful rabbit hole of the history of Robert E. Howard and how he created Conan. I was particularly fascinated by his creation of maps as well as a history and cast of important characters for the Hyborian Age where the stories take place.
Who doesn’t love a map, especially when it’s attached to a great story? I have always spent time pouring over the maps for any book that has them, figuring out who is where and (because I’m that kind of girl) trying to figure out how the terrain would affect the local climate. My late brother, George, when he was reading Lord of the Rings, had a map of Middle Earth tacked to his bedroom wall with colored pins for each character as he traced their progress through the story. I love the opening sequences of Games of Thrones with the wonderful theme song and the maps that tell you where we are going in the episode. There is nothing like a map to keep a story organized and oriented.
It’s pretty obvious that anyone creating a fantasy world needs to have some idea of the layout of their world. But other fiction also can get murky if you don’t know who is where and whether or not it’s even possible to get from point A to point B in the time allotted. That’s not so difficult if you live where you’re writing and can pace it out, but it’s a little trickier in a place you haven’t been in a long time, or have never been, or that hasn’t existed for centuries, or has never existed.
In the story I’m working on at the moment, I found a slightly different version of the problem. Not only did I need a map–I needed a floor plan. For the mansion where some of the action takes place, I need to know, what are the grounds around it like? How do you get from one part of the house to another? Where are the stairs, the kitchen, and the library? So here I sit, with grid paper in hand, making a map so my characters and I won’t get lost. Hopefully my readers won’t either if I can stick to the (floor)plan.
Image: A plaque atop White Horse Hill, Oxfordshire, England, showing where things are in relation to the hill. By Jonathan Hutchins.