Saturday, April 11, 2009

The Map of Charmangea

DunKhan, handsome hero, loses his argument with the lovely Princess Floranza. She won't leave her father's castle despite hearing that enemy forces are almost at the gate and are bent on killing her entire family. Unable to convince her that he only has her safety at heart, he rides across the landbridge and gallops off into the dark night, alone.

My fingers stopped flying over the keyboard. The newly begun adventure, and DunKhan’s horse, came to an unpleasant and jerking halt. He asked, “Where exactly are we going?”

I suffered dreadful embarrassment under DunKhan's unimpressed glare as he waited, struggling to control his impatient steed. In a moment of inspiration I replied, "You can't leave Floranza. Kidnap her if you have to. By the time you reach this spot again, I'll know what to tell you."

He kicked his horse and swooped back into Castle Cavernot. Whew! And while DunKhan was convincing Floranza, I knew I'd better get busy drawing.

At first the thought of completely abandoning the project crossed my mind. I could hear peers and teachers exclaiming loudly that I deserved this humiliating experience. There was no rough outline of plot. There were no character sketches. Heck, I hadn't even seen this story coming. How dare I violate all I have been taught, simply to satisfy the craving to create on a whim?

But brave DunKhan and beautiful Floranza would brook no such betrayal. Theirs was a love story needing to be told. But where to start? I am no artist, and I’m certainly no cartographer.

The paper remained blank for some time while I chewed the end of the pencil. I needed a much larger piece of paper. Out came the flip chart. More pencil chewing ensued. I reached for the atlas. Africa loomed before me. I traced it, then proceeded to re-invent the entire coastline.

My pencil scratched away for three wonderful days. Totally engrossed, grinning widely with the adventure of it all, I placed the warning or message beacons that surrounded the continent; named waterfalls and lakes, mines and capital cities; developed religious beliefs; located the mystical whirlpools; conjured up mythical beasts; established naval and army bases; determined ferry routes and dangerous shipwreck sites; made lists of characters and characteristics of people from each country; and finally unearthed the ‘bad guys'. Africa became completely unrecognisable as it morphed into Charmangea with its eleven countries.

Meanwhile, DunKhan saved Floranza from a midnight marauder. While attractions and conflicts deepened in Castle Cavernot, I had other problems. Here’s a few and how the map helped solve them:

I asked myself, “What do I know about this story and its characters, and how does that affect the map?” “How does the map affect the characters?”

I knew: that Floranza was the first child of Ferrisan of Libona and Evelina of Belladiz.

I discovered: that these two most powerful countries were at opposite ends of the ‘continent'. The marriage of Ferrisan and Evelina resulted in the ending of bitter feuds.

I knew: that DunKhan was a member of an intelligence network called the Nongris.

I discovered: that the Nongris functioned under the umbrella of the Brath; that they were not allowed to marry; that DunKhan was actually crown prince of the legendary Paxarterra and was in the Nongris under false pretenses.

I knew: the map would enable me to give DunKhan his much-needed directions.

I discovered: I had to trust the map completely; that I would be allowed to modify the map at any time; that if I ever didn't know what came next, all I had to do was look at the map.

For instance, as DunKhan languished semi-conscious in a dank dungeon cell, I asked him, "What are you going to do now?"

His lips twitched - in pain or annoyance, I couldn't tell. "I'm going to do what all good natives of Paxarterra do. Have you even studied my country, my upbringing, my beliefs?"

"You rest," I said. "I'll be back. I just have to sharpen my pencil."

The next day, DunKhan was released, and I breathed a sigh of relief.

More important to my career as a writer, I discovered a marvellous, if somewhat psychologically dangerous method for story development. I've never been much inspired by traditional outlines and character sketches. But this Map of Charmangea taught me to rely on my muse, to put myself right into the setting and main characters much more than for any novel I have previously written. Blood Tapestry refused to be rushed. It demanded a precision I hope I provided.

As writers we are privileged to be allowed into the realm of wonderment now and then. We may not immediately realize the key to the kingdom when it is handed to us. We may not recognize the vehicle. So, keep your mind open. Wonderful magical experiences await. They may require you to experiment with your writing methods, or to - say - draw a map.

First draft of the manuscript of Blood Tapestry is finished now and is scheduled for November, 2009 release with Eirelander Publishers, and in case anyone is wondering, it ended with a twist on Happily Ever After! I have begun work on the prequel, The Ice King’s Chalice, and yes, I’m working on the map.


Janet C. said...

Good morning, Ishbel, and welcome!

Thank you for this glimpse into your writing (and your Lady in Red's influences). It sounds like a beautiful tale.

As a pantser, I don't rely on outlines, sketches, or pre-writing of any kind. I don't know how many times my characters have stopped and asked "What?" or I've glanced over my shoulder at Muse, wondering what possible reason she would have for suggesting a scene. Sometimes I wonder if I make more work for myself, but always I come back to the keyboard and just type.

Your story makes me see that there is no right or wrong - there are characters with a story to tell. I wish you luck with Blood Tapestry. And happy writing on your prequel.

Question - I've read some novels where the map of the land is printed on the inside cover ~ will your map of Charmangea be included in Blood Tapestry? I'm undecided whether I like the added bonus or whether the author/publisher should have left me to my own imagination (and I spend a great deal of time flipping back and forth, traversing the map as the characters do).

Again, welcome and thank you.

ban said...

Ishbel, great post ! I too am a map maker - guess it comes from my need to 'SEE' everything. I can't tell someone directions or describe something without sketches or rough maps. Just ask my family - soon as I start to talk, someone hands me a pen and paper :D I so understand how a world can come into being while drawing it out on paper. Don't forget to send us a reminder when your book comes out - I'm very interested. (And I hope there IS a map :)

Jana Richards said...

Hi Janet,
It's me Jana. Ishbel is teaching a class this morning but will be with us later this afternoon to answer questions.

I don't want to put words in her mouth, but I think Ishbel's map freed her imagination rather than putting any limitations on it. I can hardly wait to read "Blood Tapestry" from beginning to end. I've heard parts of it (in our critque group we read our passages aloud) but I haven't seen the whole thing. Knowing Ishbel, it will be imaginative with an exciting plot and well drawn characters (no pun intended!).

I can also tell you that Ishbel is an awesome critiquer. Nobody I know has a keener eye (or ear) for plot and language.


Ishbel said...

The map will be part of the book. It is huge however, and will have to be divided up and placed strategically within the pages to correspond with the chapter in which each country figures. I have had it copied and put on DVD and the publisher will be manipulating it from there. Personally, I like having the map in stories if required, particularly one of this complexity (story and map) and with unusual names, etc. But I hear what you are saying about your own imagination. Whatever works for you the reader, is always best.

Tara Maya said...

Nothing stops me faster than having not done my worldbuilding first. And I love mapes.

Silver James said...

G'morning, Ishbel. What a wonderful lesson on world building. I tend to do this even in contemporary settings. Google Maps (street view) is my new BFF. I *have* to drive a route, see a building or a room. I'm not quite sure what I did before the internet. LOL. I'm so bad, I pick out houses or apartments for my characters and put pictures of them on my writing board.

I'm intrigued by BLOOD TAPESTRY and will definitely put this on my list for this fall! Keep us posted. And before the internet, I drew maps, too. *wink*

Erika said...

Wow. Just wow. I don't write fantasy, I write romance and this is why. I am not this creative. I don't know if I could recreate an entire continent. I am in awe. I can't wait to read the book. Thank you for sharing.

Ishbel said...

Thanks for the comments so far. There is no doubt that creating fantasy lands is not everybody's thing. Didn't really know it was mine until I drew the map. Oh, I can create settings that hopefully draw my readers in...settings in the real world that is. But I am now borderline addicted to making my own worlds. I understand this isn't a blog so much about writing fantasy, but it has to be said that when creating fantasy lands the writer has to make up all the scientific boundaries (i.e. is there gravity as we on Earth understand it)? Can the animals all talk? And so on. And having this power is vastly stimulating, once one gets over being overwhelmed. However, my favorite statements is: "Being a writer is the closest you'll ever get to being God." You bet!

Ishbel said...

Regarding use of the internet...this is a fabulous tool for maps, no doubt. But of course, Charmangea won't be on-line (Yet!!). I fell in love with the way the pencil scratches over the paper, the smell of the wooden pencil and the paper, the way my hand moved almost by itself, and what I learned as it went along...most importantly...the plot and the character development as it related to home land of said characters. Jana was correct in her entry. This map opened my creative gateway. The visuals were unbelievable in my imagination as a result. I did hit the web though for pics of castles around the world, as each of the 11 Charmangeic (new word just made up by me) countries required its own architecture. I learned a great deal about castles...and I already knew a fair bit. It was a fun trip.

Hayley E. Lavik said...

Welcome to the Chicks. It's fascinating hearing how other authors go about constructing their worlds. Like you, I dove in head first and later realized I needed a better idea of where I was going and where my characters were, but it's lurked mentally for the most part. I did some early sketches to lay out early towns and such and keep distance in mind, but once I got the broader sense, I haven't gone back.

Eventually I do want to go back and flesh things out, cities that didn't appear on the route in this story and the like, so I don't need to 'unveil' new areas of the main kingdom all of a sudden and then acting like they've been there all along. At this point, I don't want to distract myself from getting the story told, so I intend to have a thorough world-building day when the draft is done and expand beyond the landscape covered in this story.

How much of your world did you have in mind when you sat down to map it out, and how much arose from a need to fill in a blank, etc? Do you reference original landscapes (ie: African terrain and climate), trade routes, etc, or just create it all yourself once you had the continent mapped out?

Karen said...

I'm like Erika. So again with the Wow. Three days? I'm very interested in world building and different authors' creative processes. I don't know if I'd ever try my hand at writing fantasy but I'd like to read more of it.

I love the name "Blood Tapestry" and your world sounds very intriguing. I will add it to my list of want to read.

Thanks for sharing your prcess with us today and good luck on your next map.

Ishbel said...

I had only a blank page and a blank mind...a terrifying state. Africa 'gave' itself to me only in outline and I manipulated it as I went. I knew nothing...except that Castle Cavernot sat on a tiny speck of granite attached to the mainland by a tiny finger, as does Dunnottar Castle in Scotland. I had no idea about anything at all, not landscape, not storyline, not characters. Nothing! The whole thing unfolded simultaneously. Not very professional, I admit. But magical writing process at its finest. I agree it is of utmost importance to get the story out of the head and into word. I confess to having to strengthen the beginning of the book once all had been revealed. I was rarely blocked when writing this, but if a minor stumble did occur that was my sign to return to the map and literally and figuratively find out where I was going.

Ishbel said...

I'd challenge the bloggers to create a map. Now, don't freak. Here's what I'm asking:
You all have characters in development, in settings. You know the name of the town, likely the street they live on, the house number. Now, draw the map from the house (castle, hole in the ground, apartment, whatever) to the corner, junction, shopping mall (again...whatever is in your story). As you draw the map, add in trees, sidewalks, how may houses and who lives there, who has the scary dog, the friendly cat, where the 'boy next door' lives(d), the grump, the sex pistol...anything that defines that street or route. I think you'll be surprised at what you learn about the character you thought you knew and the setting. Let me know how you do.

Molli said...

Hello Ishbel, and welcome. Interesting challenge you've given us. Actually, as I was reading through your blog, and the comments so far, I was thinking a map for my current story would be helpful--my two prior ms have been set in areas of a city that I know, but this one isn't, although it is set in contemporary rural western Canada.

I loved hearing about you putting your characters to work in the background while you took a time out to design their world. What marvelous creations our brains can come up with when we give them free rein and trust. I'm not quite a "panster", as Janet puts it, but I have had some success with giving myself an "assignment" and putting pen to paper, literally, to get over a block or sticking point in the story that I can't get past with keying. Perhaps that's similar to your enjoyment of the pencil on the paper--a different media to experience with all the senses.

Thanks for joining us, and sharing.

Ishbel said...

It has to be said that this map drawing thing has only occurred with Tapestry. I've done all kinds of other methods:
Flashcards with chapter outlines.
Time line, with sticky notes at appropriately marked intervals.
Regular on paper outlining.
Flying by the seat of my pants the whole way.
I am not saying any one way is better than the other. It seems that each story needs its own approach to it. The key is finding which one works for which story.

Anita Mae Draper said...

Hey Ishbel - so another visual writer, eh. I'm similar. When I'm writing my historicals, I surround myself with maps, photos and other visual aids to keep me ingrained in the proper era. Plus, I always make maps of the town and even house and farmyard of my story.

You remind me of the 3D table battlefields the military uses for directing the war. With long poles, they push an aircraft carrier here or a submarine there.

Yes, it can certainly help with your plotting and characterizations. Lots of fun, too. Tell me, have you thought of going 3D? :)

I always check the front of a book for the map before diving in for the adventure.

Ishbel said...

I have thought about it. I like playing board games, and have been introduced to Dungeons and Dragons, which I like. As kids we had a 3D game called Richthoven's War (aerial combat WW I), and I've played 3D chess...difficult but interesting.