View Poll Results: Map versus Story

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  • Map comes first

    10 40.00%
  • Story comes first

    15 60.00%
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Thread: Map versus Story

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  1. #1
    Guild Artisan LonewandererD's Avatar
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    Jun 2009

    Question Map versus Story

    Story vs Map. Okay, I'm sure this has come up before. I did a search on this and found some topics that were like this but didn't quite answer my question.

    I know I'm not alone when I say that "building the world" that a map is set in is just as fun as making the map itself; by building i mean creating things like cultures and history and stuff. The problem is that while my maps get put together at a reasonable pace I've not yet got my world down track just yet, and when I make a change to that story the map is normally rendered obsolete/inaccurate. I'm sure alot of people have been annoyed at some point at having created or knowing of a world being created and then having it scrapped because of conflict between the story and the map, I'm especially guilty of this

    So before I actually try and do a map that will actually get to the finished map section I wanted to know what the forum's opinion on the matter is. Should the story come first and then the map adapted to that, or should the map come first and the story adapted?

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  2. #2
    Community Leader NeonKnight's Avatar
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    Aug 2007
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    for me. Map First. as I draw the map, my imagination starts to flow, and I start thinking....'Hmmmm...what's in that wood? And those mountains, what secrets do they overlook, and just how many ships crashed on those jagged rocks...."
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  3. #3
    Guild Artisan Facebook Connected Rythal's Avatar
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    Apr 2009
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    I'd say story. That is, if you want it to be more than a generic barbarian hero kills big green dragon with enchanted sword while saving elf princess. Not that those are bad, but its nice to have some originality. let your story create your world, not vice versa

    imo, at least.

  4. #4
    Community Leader Facebook Connected torstan's Avatar
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    Jul 2007


    I'd say story first, but I definitely keep a map in mind as I'm working on the plots.

  5. #5
    Professional Artist Facebook Connected Coyotemax's Avatar
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    Jul 2009



    To me, the story helps drive the map, and the map helps drive the story.

    When i'm doing maps just because, i can't help but seeing stories evolve in them as I go. And when I'm making a map based on a story, the story is obviously a huge influence.

    So to me, the two processes are inseparable

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  6. #6
    Community Leader Facebook Connected Ascension's Avatar
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    Jun 2008
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    I'd say make a rough map and do it fairly quick and easy. Then write your book. Then see how well the map fits the book and change accordingly. Sometimes the storyline requires more or less time to get from point A to point B and the map will change. Sometimes the story will require certain things to be in place that are not there currently so the map will change. It's a fact of life that any map that comes before the story will change. Being more of an artist and less of a writer the map comes first for me so every map I make I start stories in my head and that's where names and unique features come up and get put in.

    Also look at it this way, every time I do a commission I ask for a rough sketch. That means the writer has written his stuff and has a better idea of the layout of the world than I do and probably has that idea roughly in his head while writing and that image changes to fit his story as he writes. Since you're the writer and artist do a simple map sketch first and then write. Once you have a section nailed down or a chapter written then go back to the map and flesh it out some more in detail.

    In the end either way works just fine.
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  7. #7
    Guild Adept loogie's Avatar
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    Mar 2008
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    Well, for me its generally story, but that doesn't mean a map doesn't come first... For the most part a map is really required, at least a quick rough sketch...

    We need to remember thats maps become out of date as soon as their made, so for every story a map will only be accurate for a tiny portion of it... So, if the map is rendered obselete because of story evolution (a city is taken over, a drought dries up a lake)... then that is to be expected... but if you change a place name, or the locations, or cultures, thats where you run into a problem... and thats where a rough sketch map comes in handy, since its lays out the basics before you start anything, it will highlight the guidelines to what your doing, and you know (if you decide to keep the rough sketch as law) that whats on the rough map won't change...
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  8. #8
    Guild Expert jbgibson's Avatar
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    Oct 2009
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    I've answered "map first", but that's only partly my way. I prefer physical geography first - landforms, climate, land cover, drainage. With that mapped, maybe even not in exquisite detail, I can come up with some story. not "John left the castle, setting off on the King's Road into the sunset...", but the big sweep of history, society, culture. Then I'll go back to mapping and devise some politics - borders, habitation, transport, land use. Then that level of geography suggests story opportunities.

    While it's iterative, I usually don't backtrack on the maps. Maybe that's a measure of the strength (or NOT) of my plots - the world having attained more solidity in my mind than what I have to say in a story.

    Of course I do have a backlog of story and plot fragments, characters and situations. As I wander around a new setting, one or more of them will crawl out of my memory and slap me upside the head. So would that be "story first"?

  9. #9

    Post Inseparable, agreed.

    Quote Originally Posted by Coyotemax View Post

    To me, the story helps drive the map, and the map helps drive the story.

    When i'm doing maps just because, i can't help but seeing stories evolve in them as I go. And when I'm making a map based on a story, the story is obviously a huge influence.

    So to me, the two processes are inseparable
    This - I'm in complete agreement. I'll have to admit that I am a mapper first, but as many of us also part author, game master, illustrator. For me its a collaborative process with all levels of creative arts - that's what makes fantasy maps such an exciting task in practice. I'm kind of a visual guy, so when I know the story, I see it in my head like a movie. Where one's place is located at any given time within the story is intrinsic to some location on a map, or an encounter scale map. The story and the map are one in the same. The creative processes embarked on one aspect integrates the other simultaneously. Eventually the written dominates the time element of course, but I see the map in my mind, while I write the story.

    It's difficult for me to separate the two, even ideologically.

    Still, I voted "story" first, as the seed of an idea is needed, even for a map - that seed is story.

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  10. #10
    Administrator Redrobes's Avatar
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    Dec 2007
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    Quote Originally Posted by Coyotemax View Post
    To me, the story helps drive the map, and the map helps drive the story.

    I think the more ways you look at the same thing the more facets you can bring to bear on it. I dont write books but I do write software which is kinda wordy but we all make diagrams to sort out in our head how to make it in a succinct and clean way. Some people are more visual than literary and vice versa but few people are all of one and none the other.

    It bugs me in books when there is a logical inconsistency and it also bugs me when the visual aspects don't seem to line up. It also awes me in books when they are strong in both too. You can usually tell which writers like their maps and which don't cos some of the characters wander aimlessly with almost no references to anything that pins them to a location and for others it makes a big deal.

    I'm reading Tolkien at mo with the Hobbit and he is always referencing whether the sun is setting behind the Mistys or rising in the morning from them or that Gandalf had to travel X number of hours to get to a point where he could cross a river, he knows how much rations they need and when they will run out and so on. He clearly had the map done when he wrote it and knew where they were on it at all times and used it to add to the text. I also think that the Mistys running all the way up the middle (an improbable geological effect) shows that he needed that barrier so must have had an idea about the story requiring them going underground to find Gollum and the ring before the map was drawn up too.

    To and fro between them developing them in turn or together. Therefore I abstain !

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