View Full Version : Subconscious mapping?

08-06-2008, 08:20 AM
Something that has come to my mind of late that I'm curious to know if anyone else is doing this.

When you create your original map do you mirror the point of view of your real world location?

So if in Europe, the sea would be on the left, with general various shapes of countries and a little island of the land mass similar to the UK . Or on East coast of the US , sea is on the right and a much larger landmass with similar distances between stuff and geographical features like Applicacian mountains in a relative position. Or take on similar features like if in Australia, your map is a large single mass. Also that continents end up occupying the same general areas as on earth? the same applies for bays and coast lines, lakes and any other details?

Fractal mapping and generators can get around this problem, but sometimes I feel I don't like the results, but it's probably because I can't relate to it. Some of it can be intentional of course, I want to kick this subconscious habit, but wondered if anyone else suffers from it or even aware if they are doing it?


Steel General
08-06-2008, 09:11 AM
If I am doing that, I'm not aware of it.

08-06-2008, 11:51 AM
Many undercurrents of European legend are based on notions of a "frigid north", "southern wasteland", "unsailable western sea" and "inscrutable east, land of strange people". Combine that with a "center-of-the-world sea" and you've hit what most folks steeped in European culture (including US and other colonies) will draw when asked for a fantasy place. The works of Tolkien and other European pseudo-histories and I would hazard a guess that it's what most folks will reach for their first time out on the mapping trail. It's well-grounded in popular culture and is pretty much expected by many folks.

I would suspect that many folks in the world (and definitely the US) are so geo-illiterate that they probably don't have any concept of which side of the ocean is near them. For them, the world is influenced by whatever teen-romance/vampire story is current. Or maybe that last little bit was influenced by my wife making me stand in line at midnight to buy some silly book.

08-06-2008, 01:02 PM
Yeah the Tolkien map and Europe could come under my thread. I have seen Europe overlaid on top (http://strangemaps.files.wordpress.com/2007/06/middle-earth.jpg), (but the world Map in Tolkien Bestiary looks more like a mirror of 2 continents (http://i183.photobucket.com/albums/x291/kaolla_91/mappaarda.jpg) - though I don't know if that was done by Tolkien)

I do try and steer away from Middle-Earth type of world. Actually looking at some of the other information on this forum that is helping with that.

I live in the UK, so I as I create my 'ultimate' world (coz I'm actually trying to write fantasy novels and develop a world for them) I fall into a trap of what I mentioned above. On the other hand, if you want to get the reader to have a sense of security, then putting the hero's home town in a familiar setting can be a good device

08-06-2008, 04:41 PM
As far as most people go, I would guess that most people do in fact tap the subconscious in mapping....and every one of them will deny it as well. I consciously make my maps similar to North America cuz it's what I'm familiar with and what I know best. My continents almost always have 2 mountain ranges and a large central river emptying into a gulf with islands and swamps in the southeast and deserts in the southwest. However, I do not see anything wrong with that...our fantasies are shaped by the world around us. The most tangible world around me is the USA...if I remember from my anthropology classes it's called ethocentricty...so that's where my fantasies originate from. And yes, I was raised on a farm so that's another cliche, I know, so if I were to write stories they'd be a rehash of Eddings. To break that subconscious hold the CWBP is of enormous help since it forces us to break free of our preconceptions and really be creative. I wrote my grad school thesis on creativity so I will forego going into the whole thing any further or else bore you all to death :) but suffice it to say that the phenomenon happens and it's okay. Take the random generators, we will toss out the things that "don't look right" in favor of something we're more familiar with. We all do it and that's actually a good thing for those who wish to pursue a writing career because you have to keep in mind the target audience...you can't take them too far away from the norm. OK, I'll stop now or I might ramble on forever.

08-06-2008, 05:26 PM
I think that I generate terrain that I am familiar with but its both great and a bit racy to try something else. I reckon that the majority of fantasy had a dollop of DnD backing it and that was definitely steeped in Tolkien which was based around Oxford (Middle England !). All the halflings, elves, and orcs came right out of that and you even get the feeling it was more 'Hobbit' than 'LotR'. I like to stay with that familiarity tho I did run a campaign once which was set in a jungle. I tried to run Deserts of Desolation module pack but I found it hard to expand on the terrain beyond what was written in it as I could think of nothing more to say about it. When playing its probably no less fun to go anywhere but to DM or write / map for I would say there is a certain comfort about going local.

08-06-2008, 06:21 PM
Interesting responses.

I'm not too bothered that I could be creating something familiar, as that is part of the goal. I guess I just want to be able to disguise it cunningly.

My work ethos (concept art, illustration and making games) is to strive to create something new, different that enhances consumer culture than be a pale imitation of what's out there already which is all too easy to do if I'm not aware I'm doing it. We don't create in a vacuum and there's influences all around us. I like to try and create something new, like it's there, waiting to be discovered, I just need to work it through.

It's a fine line for me. To create something 'original' (if that's possible in today's media ) while keeping a level of familiarity so the reader/viewer can relate and be immersed. I wouldn't want to classed as a 'poor man's <insert highly acclaimed creative here> ' because my ambition is to create my own standing.

It is good to read you views. thanks for your input!


08-07-2008, 02:47 AM
So far all of my published fantasy-work has been either (A) entirely divorced from geographical realism (like Uresia - a circular archipelago designed to resemble a massive watery crater) or (B) fantasy set in an earthly location, so each (in their own way) sidesteps the question ...

The only other fantasy world I run with is the one I created as a teenager, and in those days my knowledge of earthly geography and fantasy geography were both too limited to have much to subconsciously draw on ... I'd never yet attempted to read Lord of the Rings, for example (I've since attempted it), and my favorite fantasy novel then (Ende's "Neverending Story") was mapless and overtly whimsical in layout, so whatever I was drawing on, it didn't resemble anywhere I lived (at the time, North Carolina, within hiking distance of the Outer Banks, which would have been a cool thing to mirror had it occurred to me). (My favorite fantasy novel these days is Hughart's "Bridge of Birds," which takes place in a fanciful rehash of T'ang China, so, again ...)

Anyway, wherever fantasy maps come from, I don't think there's any wrong way to go about them (at least generally - there could be a wrong way if you set specific rules for yourself and then fail to live up to them, I guess). Familiarity is good; bizarre is good; everything between is good :)

To create something 'original' (if that's possible in today's media ) while keeping a level of familiarity so the reader/viewer can relate and be immersed.

Originality is always possible and always will be; it's just the natural consequence of honest personal investment in the work. You are unique, so it's just a matter of translating the perspectives that belong to you into the work that will then also belong to you.

Originality most often emerges in the details and tones, though -- don't stress too much about it being evident at first-glance on the map :)

08-07-2008, 04:29 AM
hehe....You want to talk subconcious mapping ;) Look at the map below for my old campaign world superimposed over North America

08-07-2008, 06:04 AM
Ghalev: Yep you're speaking my language with originality. At the end of the day anything creative is a self expression of the individual, even as part of a group effort. Some of it may be geared towards particular audiences, but I'm not getting too hung up on it, at this stage it's mostly for me.

For fantasy stories I read, I don't put too high investment in the map. It's a great thing to have to help get involved, geographical bearings on the adventure, but the story is the main thing, and there are common things in all stories which are familiar. I do love creating a wealth of back story, map, bestiary, cultures etc - it's all fun to do and give authenticity. I would want my readers (hopefully there will some if I get published) to be transported to another place the way Tolkien did (but steering away from his work)

With my writing, that is dictating some of what my map is going to turn out anyway - If I want them to live in a certain climate, if their adventures lead them across a sea etc, then the map will shape that way. This is the bit that I'm referring in this thread, because I'm trying to create familiarity and so using similar locations on the planet earth to get similar environmental conditions in the story. It also works the other way around - create a map and then get story ideas from it. I will probably be doing a mixture of both methods and also leaving parts of the world unmapped (or perhaps putting in a placeholder) so I don't lock myself down and it can develop as my ideas and stories do - so it can serve the stories, than the stories be a slave to the map as characters explore the regions.

One of the things I'm going to look into is creating a world from birth (of sorts). I was reading dhalsimrocks' thread on using tectonic plates to draw a world map (http://www.cartographersguild.com/showthread.php?t=2238) and do that and see how it shapes my world.

Neon Knight: Yep, that west coast shows it most, and the general size of the area. But as others have said above, it's a good thing.

thanks for posting!

08-07-2008, 12:46 PM
[...] to be transported to another place the way Tolkien did (but steering away from his work)

That's the effect he had on me, too, but not the way you meant :)