I’ve spent the past two days deeply engrossed in the mapping of my book world. First was a map of the landscape and town, complete with directional arrows so that I know which way the light falls. This morning, I’ve spent several hours making a very detailed map of a house and all the problems in it.
When I said something about those maps on Loreth Anne White’s Facebook page, she said she’d drawn her maps the day before. Alison Kent joined the map-crew by commenting, “I researched the police dept in the city I’m basing my fictional dept on, the number of patrol officers and detectives, authority ranks, etc., then drew the squad room and various offices and holding/interview rooms, and assigned cubicles to all my characters, naming all the new ones for going forward.”
I found it fascinating that we were all drawing maps in one way or another, that we needed that physical representation of the world of our imaginations.
My life the past five weeks has been deeply map-centric. I am in New Zealand with my partner, who is competing in the World Master’s games as an orienteer. It is the sport of using a paper map and compass to find a series of flags as fast as possible. The long courses are expected to take the elite of the group about 40-50 minutes, which means a lot of people spend much longer running around a forest, off-trail, getting scratched by hostile plants and tumbling down hills for the pleasure of getting all 15 or 20 controls, in order, faster than everyone else.
I’ve tried it. It’s really hard. Christopher Robin is a very, very good orienteer, a US champ. As you might imagine, he loves maps, and he loves setting up courses almost as much as running them.
The other map aspect of my life these past weeks is the fact that we’re navigating unfamiliar terrain. We have an apartment in the middle of the CBD, and over the course of weeks have learned where the supermarket is, and our favorite pie-and-pint shop, and the waterfront. We know how to walk all over the CBD now, but it took a week or two. We’ve also been walking and hiking, close by and farther afield, and because ferries are omnipresent in Auckland, I’ve been able to mentally map the various bays and gulfs and islands around. Not all of them, but some. Each time I pass Devonport now, I check in with it, and then Rangitoto, the volcano we hiked, which has a pale green, velvety little island right across from it.
Little by little, the map in my mind grows. You’ve had this experience, too, learning to navigate your neighborhood, your city, the area around a hotel you stayed in for a few days.
When Loreth, Alison, and I all posted about drawing maps of our book worlds, I suddenly wondered why do we do this? Is there something about the mapping itself that makes the work easier, stronger, better? Is there something in the human brain that needs this exercise?
Turns out, the answer is an emphatic yes. [Read more…]