Forging The Mappa Mundi | Part 2

(continued from part 1)

In part one we covered the rudiments of establishing placefulness in fiction through spatial notation. In this installment we will be expanding upon our previous endeavour by focusing our attention on geographical clarity through directional signifiers.

Cardinal Directions and Landmarks

When attempting to establish geographical clarity in creative writing, think of everything directionally first, as you would with a map. Establish the cardinal directions (north, south, east and west) and everything else can be made to follow.

The most obvious and immediately useful directional signifiers are landmarks; buildings, mountains, forests, oceans and celestial bodies, such as the sun, etc. The larger the landmark the easier it will be (generally speaking) to refer to it across the duration of ones text. For example, in my novella, The Silence & The Howl (forthcoming), there is a gigantic coal breaker which sits north-east of the principal setting, a small rust-belt town. The structure is introduced in the first chapter, and as such, establishes both the cardinal directions as well as a point of reference that can be continuously utilized for spatial orientation; by simply describing where the coal breaker is in relation to a given character or object, one instantly knows where north and east are and spatio-temporal orientation is established, such that, if a character moves south, one at the very least understands this is away from the coal breaker and thus away from all those described areas surrounding it.

Fictive Mapmaking

To help better remember the geography of your story, maps are quite invaluable, particularly if the world rendered is quite large and well-traveled. Yet, despite the usefulness of maps to worldbuilding, it is not a very popular practice (next time you are at a bookstore, walking through the fiction section, flip through the front and back covers and first and last pages of works on display, almost none of them will have maps of the world within the story). One of the reasons I induce that the making of maps for fiction is not widespread is that it forces the author to venture into unfamiliar territory, outside of his or her principal skillsets, however, if one finds oneself lacking in the requisite abilities, one may always use Inkscape or a similar, free image rendering program wherein manual dexterity gives way to technical, numerical specification. Of course, if one is daunted by both hand-drawn cartographies AND digitally rendered maps, then one might do well to recruit the aid of a friend or colleague who is more graphically inclined. Remember, the principal purpose of making a map, at the first, is the same reason one takes notes of character bios, landmark descriptions and dialogue; that is to say, it is a spatial note, for the benefit of the author, primarily, and need not be designed for the final work.


Excerpt of The Ebstorf Map; c. 1235.