Monday, March 15, 2010

[Book Update] Here Be Dragons

There aren't actually any dragons in my novels. I may throw some in for flavor at some point, but they're not going to be dragons in the strict traditional sense nor would they have a major role. No, the phrase "Here be dragons," and phrases like it such as "here be lions" or "here be monsters" were common on ancient and medieval maps to denote areas that were unknown or unexplored. And I thought of it because I spent a few hours Saturday making a fresh map of one of my primary locations. The first half (or so) of the novel takes place in and around a town that's based on a real Central New York locale. I've even considered just using the actual name of the place rather than changing it, but for now it's got a new name. I had previously printed out a map of the locale and then penciled in my own buildings and landmarks, but Chapter 14 has the book's first major battle and I needed a larger view of the area in order to plot the action.

So back in I went, but this time I pulled the map into Paint and extensively touched it up. I removed many of the current labels, roads and other features that wouldn't be in the town in my book. I added some bridges, walls, buildings and, importantly, sketched in a forest that's not there in the real world.The map came out a bit amateurish because I suck at Paint and at all elements of the visual arts, but it doesn't matter for my purposes. Nobody will ever see this map except me and possibly some of my readers who critique the manuscript for me. Possibly, if it were of value, I might show it to a publisher/editor/artist if everyone agreed that it made sense to include a map in the published book.

I'll admit, I've always liked books with useful maps. The map of Middle Earth in The Lord of the Rings, for instance, is great for giving you an at-a-glance sense of the size of the region and the relative positions of all the places Tolkien's characters visit and refer to. Likewise, Jordan's Wheel of Time and Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire books are measurably improved by their nice cartography. It's not so much the quality of the narrative that's improved, rather it's the reader's experience accessing that narrative that's enhanced by the maps.

For my novel, I very well might like to see a map of the town and possibly a larger one of the region around it as well. I have no idea how much control I'll have over that (again, assuming the whole "Yes, we'd like to publish your book" discussion actually takes place), but I'm certainly going to have my maps in front of me when I write the thing and I can imagine the reader wanting to have the map handy when they read it.

I also got a page or so into Chapter 14, which is how I knew that I needed to update my map. I told my wife recently that there are probably 5-6 "scenes" in my first novel that I'm really looking forward to writing, and the battle in Chapter 14 is one of them. The main character "coming into his own" is possibly the one I'm most excited about, but there are quite a few others. I know myself well enough to know that as anxious as I am to finish those passages, jumping ahead and doing it in advance would likely be a huge mistake given my nature. But that only serves to enhance my enthusiasm when I get to one of them and get to write it at last.

Chapter 14 is also a hallmark in one other way - if my estimate is even ballpark-accurate, then I'm roughly a third of my way through the book, and pretty well on track in terms of the overall story-arc: beginning/middle/climax + a brief denouement that would lead into book 2. If I can find the time to devote to heads-down writing this week (which, at best, will be on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday), I hope to barrel through Chapter 14 and possibly 15 as well. If I could write two chapters a week minimum for the next few months, I'd be finishing up the first draft of the novel almost exactly when the kids are getting out of school for the summer. Which, really means I need to write a lot MORE than two chapters a week, but based on what I've experienced so far I just don't think that's realistic. I'll just forge ahead as best I can and see where I end up. Wherever that is, you can bet it'll be off the map.

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