Making Maps: The Weight of Imaginary Geography - Tor/Forge Blog

Making Maps: The Weight of Imaginary Geography

Truthwitch by Susan Dennard
Written by Susan Dennard

Because I’m currently writing the second book in the Witchlands series (titled Windwitch), I thought I’d discuss maps. Why? Because maps are really, really important in storytelling. I don’t care what genre you’re writing—knowing Where Things Are not only helps the drafting process, but it also helps ground the story.

Even if you’re drafting a contemporary, you want the details of a city to be right. And even if your city is totally made up, you want to make sure it feels real.

Personally, I love making maps. No doubt because they’re great procrastination tool—I mean, I could hardly start drafting my fun murder mystery idea without a fully developed town!MysteryIdea

In case you’re curious, the idea was a sort of Nancy Drew meets Remington Steele tale complete with romance! tension! 1960s fashion! A touch of paranormal mystique! As such, I wanted a cute, contained town with lots of fun—even offbeat—features.

For my Something Strange & Deadly series, I was working with real cities during Victorian times. As such, I had to use historic maps of the area.

For Philadelphia, it was easy! 1876 was the year of the Centennial Exhibition, so not only were tons of maps made for visiting tourists, but detailed guidebooks too.1876Philly_with locations

The same could not be said for 1876 Paris. I think the closest I got was 1883. As for Cairo, I never did find a good map. I ended up compiling a bunch of different diaries and guidebooks written in/around 1876 in order to get a good idea of where things were.

When it came time to write Truthwitch, one of the first things I did was sketch out a rough map of the Witchlands continent. Since the empires are loosely (read: very, very loosely) based on the Venetian, Ottoman, and Habsburg empires, I knew I wanted my continent to look roughly European.

And, since most of the action happens in my alternate Venetian empire (at least in the first book), I wanted the area to feel Mediterranean and Adriatic.WitchlandsRough

While I was drafting Truthwitch, I used this rough map to approximate distances and travel times, to figure out the most logical routes to different places—and, perhaps most importantly, to imagine how the landscape all fit together.

Once it was time for an actual illustrator (Maxime Plasse) to step in and reproduce the map “all fancy like,” he helped me tweak some names and he also suggested some new/different landscape elements. For example, he added some more mountains and rivers to make it all feel More Real.

One thing I really wanted for the series’ map was for it to look like it came from the Witchlands—like maybe my characters would have this exact map to travel. Well, Maxime totally succeeded in creating that. I mean, just check out this cartouche. (I LOVE THAT WORD. Cartouche, cartouche, cartouche. I wish I had more excuses to use it in everyday conversation.)

It looks very official, doesn’t it? Ah, and are you interested in seeing the full color version of the final Witchlands map? Well, east your eyes on the glory that Maxime Plasse produced!

The Witchlands
Now that I’m writing Windwitch, I’m relying on my glorious final map a lot—like way more than I did with book one. For some idiotic reason, I left all of my characters are in different places at the end of Truthwitch. Now I must constantly scrutinize the map to figure out where everyone is in relation to each other.

Right now, it looks like most of book two will happen around Lovats, which is the capital of an autonomous nation called Nubrevna. That said, who knows where everyone will end up by the time I finish the book! All I know for certain is that my maps will keep me (and my characters) on course.

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Follow Susan Dennard on Twitter at @stdennard, on Facebook, and on her website.

2 thoughts on “Making Maps: The Weight of Imaginary Geography

  1. I’m trying to map my make-believe campus, and it’s such a discouraging scrawl of place names and pointy symbols for roofs and trees, and circles for towers and ponds. Although it’s better than nothing.

    Do you have any more hints on map-making? I like how you used real maps and drew in what you needed on top of them. Maybe I could do that with Oxford University.

  2. Dear Madam.

    Your map is a good try!
    But in no way a map of earth at no time.

    You, sorry miss geomorphology basis, and could find only a little even universities are very shy on this topic.
    It is why from more than a century nothing serious came from university, only theories and financial BS ideologies.

    It happens i have a real map of earth at very very old age.

    If interested, write back.

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