Mapping Your Way Into A Story

After I’ve been on an adventure, the first thing I do when I sit down to write my story is draw a map because it is only when my characters start moving from place to place that a plot unfolds. Perhaps maps are such a huge part of my creative process because I’m dyslexic and I need visual prompts to steer my ideas into a tale or maybe it’s simply because my stories are quests and I feel I’m more likely to capture the essence of adventure – that thrill of journeying through unexplored lands – if I’ve glimpsed the forests, seas and mountains before my chapters take shape. Whatever the reason, I always draw my way into stories. Sometimes I sketch my fictional world directly onto an Ordinance Survey map to make sure the geography works and other times I draw onto a blank sheet of paper using memories of interesting places I’ve discovered.

In the gallery below is the map I drew for Erkenwald, the snowy kingdom in Sky Song. 

Advice on how to draw your own fictional map

If you are creating an Arctic world, think about including icebergs, glaciers, frozen lakes and snowy mountains. If you’re planning something warmer, perhaps sketch out beaches, caves, jungles, temples, oceans and islands. Or maybe you want to create an enchanted city with magical railways, libraries, museums, restaurants, sewer tunnels. Remember your world can be any shape! Things to think about:

  • Where might my main character live? Mark that spot on the map
  • Where might my villain live? Mark that spot on the map

Authors spend a lot of time dreaming up names for places in their stories. Here is a bit of information on how I came up with a few of the place names in Sky Song.

  1. Winterfang

This is the name of my Ice Queen’s palace, a fortress of domes, spires and towers carved out of an iceberg. I wanted a word that would conjure up the menace of the Ice Queen and ‘winter’ carried all the connotations of ice and snow while ‘fang’ leant the word a sinister undertone.

  1. Never Cliffs

I’ve always loved J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan and especially Neverland, the fictional world the characters travel to. There’s something endlessly magical about the word ‘never’ – and using that word in conjunction with a mountain range implies dazzlingly high peaks and ridges that go on and on and on.

  1. Devil’s Dancefloor

This is the name of an enchanted lake in Erkenwald but I didn’t make the name up myself. While researching the book, I was reading about adventurer Olly Hicks’ kayak expedition from Greenland to Scotland and one of the toughest stretches of his journey was over the 300 miles of open water between Iceland and the Faroe Islands, known as the Devil’s Dancefloor. I loved the alliteration of these words, and their sinister connotations, and I decided they would be perfect for a lake enslaved to an Ice Queen’s command.

Naming places on your map:

When naming places of interest on your map, remember to think about the connotations of your place names and to use techniques like alliteration to bring them to life. Below are a few words to trigger places names for your world.

Mountains

Crag Cliff Peaks Ridges Jagged
Mount Valley Daggers Cloud Mist

 Forests

Thorn Gnarled Twisted Knotted Dense
Bramble Rotten Oak Ivy Trunk

Seas

Waterfall Cove Ocean Depths Waves
Swell Churning Froth Anchor Swirling

Caves

Tunnels Shadow Echo Deep Bones
Mouth Scream Underground Labyrinth Crystals

 Buildings

Hovel Castle Lighthouse Forgotten Haunted
Crumbling Ruined Fallen Secret Lost

 

 A note on plot and characters:

Your main character has to want something for there to be a plot. Chloe from David Walliams’ Mr Stink wanted a friend. Charlie from Roald Dahl’s Charlie And The Chocolate Factory wanted a golden ticket. JK Rowling’s Harry Potter wanted to destroy Voldemort.

Activity:

Decide what your character wants:

  • Do they want to rescue a person?
  • Do they want to find an object?
  • Do they want to save an animal?
  • Do they want to find a cure for someone who is ill?
  • Do they want something else entirely?

Draw a line through your fictional world (starting from where your main character lives) mirroring the journey your character might take to find the person/item/animal they want. Take them to the most exciting places on your map. Create detours. Let your character get lost. Imagine traps… Now think about the following:

  • What might happen at each place your character visits?
  • What characters/magical creatures might your main character meet?
  • At which place will your main character encounter the villain?

So, that is how I plan my stories! By now, you might well have the groundwork for an exciting story of your own. Write it down…