This post was originally published on the Author Allsorts site on 30.06.17

When I first saw the suggested blog post idea of using
maps in fiction writing, my initial thought was that I wasn’t the one to write
it. After all, I don’t write the kind of epic fantasy that requires a map: I am
no C.S. Lewis or JRR

In any
case, in real life, I’m afraid I let the female side down when it comes to
map-reading – I read them backwards, sideways and any which way that doesn’t
make sense and gets me hopelessly lost.

But then I thought a bit harder about it. And I think
that most writers of fiction do “map” as they write – even if they don’t
produce a beautiful and plausible topography of their world.

In my case, I had in my mind a clear picture of the
eleventh century leper hospital where my character Annie finds herself in The Serpent House
(Curious Fox, 2014). After all, it was based on a real place: the long-lost
hospital after which my village, Spittal in Berwick-upon-Tweed, gets its name.
So I knew how close to the sea it was, roughly how big it would be and (based
on other such places) how it would be laid out.

I was delighted to find this little plan by local
historian Jim Walker
and to be given permission to use it when I talk to
schools about the book.

How does “mapping” help a writer then?

It’s amazing how often new writers forget about
setting. They have a great concept for a story and they know (or should know!)
the importance of fully rounded characters. But no story happens in a vacuum. I
think it was Paul Magrs who
said that if anyone wrote an experimental novel that was not set anywhere,
readers would find themselves inventing their own setting in their minds. We
want to be able to see where the action happens and imagine ourselves there.

And that’s why our story world maps have to somehow
leap off the page. It’s not enough to describe things visually. That mountain
range: what winds come off it? That patch of farmland: how does it smell? When
the character’s in their top floor city centre apartment, what traffic can they

I like to get new writers to know their fictional
world really well. It’s always important, even if that world is a fantasy one:
they need to know its rules, its language, its culture and any other detail
that may or may not creep into the story.

You the writer are the explorer, the pioneer. So draw
that map for those who’re following your journey! It doesn’t have to be a work
of art. It’s just a start – and then you can add in all the extra information,
until you have your own version of a Rough
to your own story world.