Five ways to improve your writing with maps

October 4, 2007


flickr:retro traveler

Maps, the stylish merger of form and function, are the easiest way to impart certain types of information. Can you imagine what travel would be like if all travel directions were verbal only? Ick.

Maps can help you with your writing, too. I don’t mean outlines or “mind maps” or the like, though those work for some people as well. I’m talking about real maps.

In fiction:
Worldbuilding
Holly Lisle has a great Maps Workshop that explains how to create a world complete with natural-looking features with just a pencil, paper, and a lack of artistic ability. Non-fantasy writers can use this technique, too–characters need neighborhoods to inhabit, don’t they?

For authenticity
Sometimes you just want your characters to use a map, and you want them to use it accurately. An article from The Broadsheet’s archives reviews a book of maps and points out some surprises from history that could make great authentic story fodder. (Of note is the author of the review, too, whose prose is less refined than it is now but certainly shows much potential!)

In nonfiction:
To show where things happened
Check out this old Poynter column with its mock-up of a “Google Maps-driven news feature.” Lots of people have jumped on this concept since 2005, including Nintendo, with its Wii News Channel. Using the remote, users scroll over a map of the earth, and can click on marked locations where recent news events took place.

To show where things are
Travel, entertainment, the arts, dining–anyone who writes in any of these fields could and should be making maps, helping readers easily find venues. The blog Gridskipper.com is based almost entirely around this concept.

In any kind of writing:
Okay, okay, now it’s mind mapping time. It’s obligatory–any time the word “map” comes up we have to get all abstract and stuff. But Lifehacker’s writeup is actually a fairly decent introduction to the idea, and for people less linear than I, mind mapping might work swimmingly.

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2 Responses to “Five ways to improve your writing with maps”

  1. Kahunna Says:

    Funny enough, I was searching the internet for advice on mind mapping for an upcoming book I’m writing. Not only is your blog entry useful for my task, but wouldn’t you know it, you’ve posted one of my flickr images!

  2. Rachel Says:

    Thanks for making it available. I don’t know what we bloggers’d do without the Creative Commons. :)


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