Chapter 21: Why You Should Have a Map, Even if Your Readers Don’t

I’ve shared this map before, and I’ll do it again.  Why?  Because what you see here is the only reason I have a handle on where my series is going.  The definition of epic fantasy means that you have to create a world.  It’s some authors’ strength, and others’ weakness.  Either way, it’s necessary.

If you only have one nation that your book focuses on, you can get deluded into thinking you don’t need a map.  But, here’s the thing… your world simply won’t real the readers in.  When I mention different cities in the real world, readers instantly can picture something.  If they’re unfamiliar with the city, it’s pictures they’ve seen online.  If they’ve been there, they can even imagine the city’s smells, humidity, and general ‘feel’ that is hard to convey in writing.

For example, Hero Status by Kristen Brand takes place in Miami.  Instantly, she’s already half way through her description simply by telling you the city.  Palm trees, salty air from the ocean, sweat-inducing humidity, sun so bright you’re still squinting with sunglasses on.  Then there’s the fact that her protagonist Dave is Hispanic, so you get glimpses into the predominating culture of the area.

Now, if I mention Mereu… nothing comes to your mind.  Why?  Because it’s a city in my world for this series.  You have no predispositions about it.  I have to describe everything from the ground up.  That city is very important for one of my minor characters, Rutley, and I know that he’ll be spending more time there as the series goes on.  It shapes him.

Where your characters come from, where they would go if the chaos of your plot didn’t get in the way… all of that is important.  Even if not all of the information comes up, you should have your map written down.  Before I had it professionally created, I had a rough sketch that I used as I was writing.  It reminded me of all the possibilities of where my characters could go.

With every book in my series, a new country (sometimes more than one) is added into the thick of the plot.  I already know everything about the culture of every place I will ever mention.  Why is this important?  Foreshadowing.

I feel like I’m rambling, even though this blog post isn’t that long yet.  I just want to leave you with this message: in this world, you can type into the GPS of your phone and go wherever you want.  In the fictional world you create, it’s up to you to make that a journey for your reader rather than a ‘trip from Point A to Point B’ (aka your plot points).  Take the time.  Build your world.  It’ll help built your characters and your plot.

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

I need to take a moment to give props to JK Rowling on the entertainment front.  She’s literally dipped into every almost avenue possible: books, movies, amusement parks, and the stage.  (Pictured is my best friend, Courtney, standing outside the stage of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child in London England.)  Being an author is (sadly) about more than just writing good work.  You have to think about it as a business.  Not necessarily in the same way as Rowling.  But here’s the question I give you: how can I reach a wider audience?

The Smokies

Here’s a picture of my ever-pale self in the Smokies!  This particular hike was 2 miles each way, so a total of 4 miles.  It was rather flat, but as you can see the scenery was beautiful.  It also was quite inspiring!  As I wrote a fairy short story titled “Between the Trees” that will hopefully find a home soon!

Chapter 3: Me Vs. Them

We’ve all heard it.  “Oh, you’re an artist?  Draw me.”  “You’re a singer?  Sing something?”  “You’re an author?  Make me a character in your book.”  If I’m being honest, the closest I can offer is killing a character that reminds me of you.  (That sounds quite graphic, but if you’re an author, chances are you understand.)  Then, there’s the somehow even more popular one to hear: is the main character based on me?

Now, I think it’s safe that George R. R. Martin is not quite as murderous as his set of characters, and as far as I know he doesn’t have ambitions to claim any thrones.  Nor can J. K. Rowling relate to the “Chosen One,” and I sincerely doubt she has the stomach of Ron.  However, I would be rather big-headed if I compared myself to the king and queen of modern literature.

So, what do I do?  I take a part of myself and morph it into its own person.  For the book I finished last year, I had four main characters.  Their names will mean nothing to you now, but for the sake of clarity, their names are Logan, Abigail, Trevor, and Makenna.  I have Logan’s sense of always wanting to do what’s right, Abigail’s need to always be right and be the smartest in the room, Trevor’s dorky awkwardness, and Makenna’s inability to completely open up to anyone.  I started from there, and then worked towards creating them into their own three-dimensional characters.  However, that’s as close as it gets.

Otherwise, I have to take the time to get to know my characters like in any relationship.  They’re as real to me as anyone else.  There’re characters I naturally click with, and then there’s one who I have to put in effort to open up to me.  A good portion of the time, when I have writer’s block, it’s because one of my characters is being difficult.  I need the plot to go a certain way, but they’re not reacting how I want them to.  Some people might say, “You’re the author.  They’ll do whatever you tell them to do.”  But, they won’t.  That’s the start of a very poorly written novel.

Something I struggle with is the male perspective.  They’re like a whole different species to me.  I understand them as much as I understand quantum physics, or in other words not at all.  All I have is observations I’ve made throughout my lifetime.  I don’t really think my male characters are girlie or anything, but I always feel like I don’t make them as strong as they could be.  As a feminist, I believe in equality.  But, that means that I want all of my characters to be strong – not just the females.  (With that said, you will not find a single of my works without a strong female lead.)  Whenever I want to develop them more, I’m always hesitant.  Do their minds work anything like ours?  Hell if I know.

I’ve an entire world in my head – multiple actually, thanks to a long history of unpublished work.  They’re worlds that I want to share with this one.   However, anyone I share it with can never see it quite like I do.  It’s basically like they’re looking through a window that hasn’t been washed; they can see enough to connect some dots but everything’s still a little blurred.

So, no.  I’m not my characters, and they aren’t me. I’m merely the person in between, trying to make the window that much cleaner.  Maybe one day I’ll even be talented enough to open the door.