Choosing Whether There Will Be a Map

A couple of data points on authors and their decision whether to have a map of their fantasy world.

Mark Lawrence says there won’t be maps for his Book of the Ancestor series of fantasy novels. “I’ve nothing against maps, I just never look at them,” he says; and besides, in the case of these books (Red Sister and the forthcoming Grey Sister) they wouldn’t be necessary.

There is an assumption there … fantasy books have maps. Which is odd, since I have read hundreds (possibly thousands) of novels without maps, many of them set in regions I’m unfamiliar with. The fact is that for a great many works of fiction maps are irrelevant, they are about what people are doing in their lives, if Sarah goes to visit her uncle in Vostok it is sufficient for me to know it took her several hours on the train and when she got there the forests were covered in snow. I don’t need to look it up on a map. It doesn’t matter. […]

In Red Sister the vast majority of the story takes place within a circle a few hundred yards across. The small amount of traveling is simple. The rare references to remote places are similarly simple. The habitable world is a corridor fifty miles wide and tens of thousands of miles long, following the equator. The empire is flanked to the west by one country behind a mountainous border, and to the east by a sea with another country on the far shore.

A map would be a long skinny thing on a page that was 90%+ white space. The detail would be hard to see and invented by me entirely to fill the map … no other reason.

On the other hand, Betsy Dornbusch, author of the Seven Eyes trilogy, finds that working out the map when writing a story—even when it’s in a real-world location—does aid the writing process. “It helped SO MUCH to map it early and while I wrote. Gave me ideas, provided realism and worldbuilding issues, helped the story immensely,” she wrote on Twitter. See the entire Twitter thread beginning here.

Previously: When Fantasy Authors Aren’t Fans of Fantasy Maps.

Author: Jonathan Crowe

I blog about maps at The Map Room, review books for AE: The Canadian Science Fiction Review, and edit a fanzine called Ecdysis.