Tag Archives: cartography

Geographic Confessions

I am not a cartographer.

In high school, my geography teacher did well by her students. I know that there are seven continents (if you include Antarctica, which I do), I have a general idea where most countries, seas and oceans are, as well as the locations of many land-features such as the Alps and the Mohave desert. Our final assignment in geography was to create a relatively detailed and accurate map of the world with certain features labeled from memory.  It was very hard, but rewarding.

You are probably wondering where I am headed with this ramble. As with most things I ramble about, it connects to writing.

Most people who read fantasy are familiar with the attendant maps. Some  even read while referencing the maps to see where they are. A friend recently confronted me with the lack of… I don’t know a word for it. Directionality? He did not have a good idea of the layout of the story’s geography, and it bothered him.

It has been bothering me for a while, too. I have a general idea of the area and the world, but I need more. Like a student in a life-drawing class, I need to understand the skeleton of my subject before I can draw it convincingly.

I need maps.

I need maps that only I can make, and I am not a cartographer. I have been putting it off because I am afraid of backing myself into a corner, making a map that is somehow “wrong.”  What if it is, unconsciously, too like Earth? What if it is too off the wall and ceases to make sense? What if the rain-shadows aren’t where they are supposed to be (yes, I think about things like that)?

But the truth is that I need the framework. The better I know the territory, the world, the more convincingly I can write the characters’ interactions with it. Flopping about in vague mush isn’t going to get me anywhere. Is the story in the Northern or Southern hemisphere (getting my head around Southern-hemisphere mechanics is daunting, but tempting), how many continents are there? What influences the weather-patterns? Where are the trade-routes?

What is an author to do?

In looking for a starting place, I came upon this blog:


This lets me know that others have already blazed this trail. There are already tools, such as Campaign Cartographer 3 by ProFantasy. Personally, I really like playing with this free fractal map generator: http://donjon.bin.sh/world/

There are resources for cities and dungeons, too.

But it seems to me that these are only places to start, and most likely other writers out there have discovered other useful resources. And so, I give a shout-out.

If you know any good resources for creating maps of other worlds, let me know in the comments. I will do a follow-up post including them. If you, like me, are intimidated by this problem, at least we can commiserate and then encourage each other. If, on the other hand, you are an amateur (or professional) cartographer, I would love to get your input!


Enough with the Dichotomy

I  usually try to stay out of political discussions, but I need to get this one off my chest.

I get really sick of the “either/or” mentality proliferated in the current politics of my homeland. The reality is, most  people fall somewhere between the “Republican” and “Democratic” ideologies.  The rest of the world rarely sees this, though, as the loudest voices are the ones on the fringes.

It seems that the more similar our political parties become (that is another discussion, and one I would rather not start here) the more they feel it necessary to differentiate themselves with hot-button issues and combative politics. Though I am not much of a conspiracy theorist, I feel like our political system, media included, is intent on polarizing the nation.

I want them to stop it. I doubt that they will. After all, frightened and angry people are easier to lead, up to a point.

A good example of this artificial dichotomy is our “election map.” Sure, it is simple for the sake of being easy to read, but when most people are presented with a map of the States colored in stark red and blue they come away with the idea that there are two monolithic sides at war. A red state is a red state, and a blue state is blue.

Forgive my language, but that’s bullshit. Heaps and mounds of steaming bovine excrement.

Every state in the union is purple, as are most of its citizens. It may be impossible to quantify the shades of red and blue in individuals in order to give an accurate representation of national political leanings, but surely we can do better than the red-state/blue-state false dichotomy.

Thankfully, someone has done this. M. E. J. Newman,  I thank you for your fascinating election maps.

Take a quick look at this:

This is a map representing percentages of votes by county in the 2008 presidential election. I don’t know about you, but I don’t see any completely red or blue states. I hope this shatters a few illusions, like the assumption that certain regions of the country can be effectively represented by stereotypes. For any who don’t know, I hate stereotypes and blanket statements.

And here is a cartogram, a map where the counties have been re-sized to represent their populations.

Interesting, no?
Now, I understand the usefulness of the stark red and blue maps when representing electoral votes on election night. But I post this from a need to point out to any who don’t know, that the U. S. of A. cannot be accurately represented by a dichotomy. Even the purple map fails us, for it does not show the growing frustration with the two-party system, the fact that many people who vote Republican or Democrat are not strongly one or the other, or the votes for Green, Libertarian, Independent or Write-In candidates.

It is time for our nation to wake up and stop thinking in terms of “either/or.” The cynic in me says that there is worse to come. Fear and anger are blinding more and more people, and when in that state people prefer to see those who disagree with them as caricatures rather than people. Stereotypes are easier to hate and everyone, whether they admit it or not, harbors some hatred for a stereotype or two.

I don’t know what else to do, save to break down assumptions one person at a time and keep praying that the People of the United States of America will stand up and say “stop putting us in your boxes and listen to what we really think!”

P.S. I know that posting something about politics at this time may seem like an invitation, but I will delete any comment that contains partisan vitriol. This isn’t the right place for that kind of venting.

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