Month of maps – Raven’s Blood

What I wanted to do today was mostly drink bourbon in bed with the covers over my head and maybe keep doing that for the next three years.

But no, we must soldier on; there are new battles to fight and more work to be done. And I don’t have any bourbon in the house anyway.

Instead, let’s talk about maps some more.

I promised I’d spend the month creating and then discussing maps for some of the projects I’ve been working on. So here, in all its glory, is my map of Crosswater, the city that is the setting of Raven’s Blood:

Crosswater map

This is obviously a bit bare-bones, but it shows the core information about Crosswater’s geography – that it’s a town built around two rivers (the Dawn and the Dusk) that come together to let out into a harbour.

So what discussion points does this suggest?

Pretty and Useful Ain’t the Same Thing

If you’re looking at this map and thinking it looks like something I slapped together in MS Word in like twenty minutes, well, you’re perceptive. There’s no way this is going into the front pages of the book once it is snapped by Random Penguin and they print it to universal acclaim, or even if I end up publishing it myself and paying someone fifty bucks to do the map in Dundjinni or something.

But so what? This is a working document, not a finished product. Maps are tools, first and foremost, and this map does the job of presenting the relationship between places that I need it to do. If anything this is still more developed than it needs to be (note the sumptuous use of colour, after all); I could get just as much use out of a diagram, a mind map or some scribble in a notebook.

If you’re sitting down to create a map for your project, don’t feel paralysed by any feeling that it requires visual polish. That comes at the end, when other people look at your stuff. When you make stuff to use, just do what works for you – anything more will distract you and is likely to need revising once you’re finished anyway.

Filling in Details as We Go

What are the names of the three untitled districts? Don’t know. What are the areas around the city? Don’t know. Are there additional districts and locations? How many ships are anchored at Dockside? Is there a wall to the north of the Commons? Don’t know, don’t know, don’t know (but probably). Bottom-up design is all about doing what’s required and no more, and this map shows everything that the narrative has demanded so far. Once I finish the book I’ll come in and fill in some of these blanks, because I’ll want to present a finished map, but there’s no need for that right now.

This map is also not to scale, because scale is also not something I really need yet. I know it takes about an hour to walk at night from the Arrowsmith manor to Kember’s house, because Kember does that, and that gives me some idea of Crosswater’s size. That idea will probably morph at the end; I think the town is a bit wider that this map implies. I’ll work that out once I get there.

If you’re more inclined to a top-down approach, this probably sounds like a terrible approach, in which case you should do what works for you. But if you prefer to work through the core of the story first and then fill in the rest, a map like this – bare-bones but with the important bits in the right place – can help you develop the flow of that story, rather than dictating it.

Fantasy Languages Need Not Apply

As you can see, Crosswater is lacking in polysyllabic and apostrophe-laden fantasy words, or even just words that aren’t in English. Part of this is a personal aesthetic; I tend to like portmanteaus, compound terms and colloquialisms much more than stuff in made-up languages. I can’t keep those words in my head when reading and can’t develop them in a logical sense when I write; better to work with word-components that actually engage me.

The other reason is thematic. Crosswater and the Westron Lands are meant to evoke Elizabethan London and England to some extent, although not exclusively. Using English words for place names helps with that, as so many locations of the period follow that model – and those that don’t are often derived from Roman or Celtic terms that were originally compound terms. (Manchester was basically called ‘breast-like hill’, at least according to Wikipedia.)

Not all of these words are set in stone. ‘Courtpark’ isn’t going to last, because it sounds like something you find in a basketball game. My original plan was ‘Kingspark’ but that didn’t click either; it doesn’t pull apart cleanly into ‘King’s Park’ rather than ‘King Spark’. And ‘Dockside’ is a bit bland; I need to bring something in to spice that up. Time to pull out my reference books – the Vulgar Tongue, the amazing Macquarie Thesaurus and Liza Picard’s Elizabeth’s London – and see what grabs my eye.

Bird’s Eye versus Boots on the Ground

This map is a useful tool in a lot of ways, especially as it helps me work out where all the various locations fit alongside each other.

But the map is not the territory, as they say, and this map – any map – doesn’t tell you or me what it’s like to live in Crosswater. It doesn’t say what the rivers smell like, how the food tastes, why the border between Greywharf and Wright’s Parish is erupting in violence; it doesn’t tell a story. Well, it doesn’t tell the story I want; maps can tell stories, but they are stories of grand scope and change, less stories about fist-fights with bronze cyborgs on collapsed bridges.

Evoking a location is something that happens in the text itself, rather than the map at the start. (Or at least it does if I do my job right.) That’s where the colour and shape comes out, where sights and sounds and smells enter play. But having said that, the birds-eye map still helps, because it shows you where that detail might be found. If I want to describe the feel of Dockside, I can see from the map that I need to reflect the presence of the harbour – the smell of the sea, the churn of the Dusk as it emerges into a nest of wharves, the warning bells as Warrant ferrymen take prisoners out to the jail of the Rock. Without a map to remind me, I might lose track of that – and that’s why my bodgy Word diagram is such a valuable tool.

In closing, Roland Emmerich’s Anonymous may have been awful trash, but it gave us some cool CGI visuals for Elizabethan London – so if you’re wondering what Crosswater looks like a bit lower to the rooftops, take the image below and add approximately 30% more masked superheroics and villainy. And some parkour. And maybe a giant snake. That’s pretty close.

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