Posted in Chronicles in Creation

Plotting! (For Non-Super Villains) – Part 2

Ch.23 - Plotting for Non-Super VillainsWelcome back! This is Part 2 of a 2-part post. Part 1 looked at some of the various reasons why I personally find planning my stories out fully in advance to be enormously helpful, but in keeping myself on message, and in just keeping myself going at all!

Here in Part 2, we’ll be taking a look at the various methods – or steps, I suppose I should call them? – that make up my planning process.

Obviously, you may feel that I’m planning in a ridiculous amount of detail, but I swear that (for me) each step allows me to learn a different thing about the story I’m creating, and I couldn’t write without them.

If you are currently planning, or maybe you struggle with planning in a helpful and productive way, and you find any of these methods helpful: that’s great! Always very happy to possibly help!

You might have a totally different way of planning out a story, in which case please do let me know down in the comments!

Right, now that’s out of the way with, let’s go!

Step 1 – Argh! All The Wild Ideas!

Technically this is probably Step 1.3, but I was too busy plotting to grab my camera before this…

Step 1 of planning out a story is to grab all of my relevant ideas, and at least three colours of post-its and start scribbling. Jot down each and every single thing that you currently know happens in your story. Every. Thing.

“Stan meets Cleo” – that gets a post-it. “They sneak into the castle” and “They get caught” should probably be two post-its. Heck, “Sinister cat appears” should absolutely be a post-it! In fact, make several of that one, you’re going to want to repeat a moment that inherently awesome!

Once you’ve got all the immediate ideas jotted down, get yourself a big flat surface, and start laying them all out, and shuffling them around. You’ll know going in that some things will happen before others, so stick those ones earlier, but some ideas will be a bit more nebulous, and you can play around with the order until you find something that you really like.

Also can you see, I have some smaller beige post-its? Those just have chapter numbers written on them, and as I start sticking ideas down, I tend to get a bit of a sense that this event, or that development will be a whole chapter in itself and doesn’t need anything added. Again, a lot of this will change a bit as you work on shaping your story, but that’s the beauty of post-its! They can just get pulled up and stuck down somewhere else!

Why do you need multiple colours of post-its, though? Well, if you have a Main Plot and a Sub-plot, you’re going to need to differentiate them nice and easily. Got a romantic sub-plot too? Definitely need to keep an eye on that. That way, you can see if a plot-thread has started to disappear out of your narrative, or if your sub-plot has basically become the main plot by taking up too much space!

20170824_22414620170829_233430As you get a better handle on your story, you’ll be able to fill in your blanks.

(Also, as you can see, I ran out of space on my table pretty quickly and the wardrobe was immediately sacrificed! Please don’t judge me for the stuff on the floor?)

Step 2 – Typing Up (Round 1)

As anyone who lives around post-its for long enough knows, post-its are only ever a temporary solution. They come unstuck and get everywhere really easily. Then they get hoovered up, played with by the kids or the cat and you will never see them again. And there went your plot.

Plotting stage 2So once you’ve managed to haul the plot points you’ve got into the general shape of a full story with a distinct beginning, middle and end, it’s time to start typing them up.

(For the sake of my own sanity, I tried to find colours in Excel that matched the post-its pretty closely, but you may be mentally-robust enough not to need to care about such things?)

Whether you just literally type up what’s on the post-its, or whether like me you use this opportunity to start fleshing out each point, it’s totally up to you. Basically, you’re preserving the post-it plot and giving yourself a usable, printable document to start playing around with a bit further.

Plotting stage 2.1

Susan Pevensie Part 1As you can see, there will likely still be some gaps in that plot! I never worry about them too much yet, but I do make sure to mark in what idea I do have in that space, and make myself little notes to remind myself that there’s  still something I need to work on. That way, when I get to later stages (or even, heaven forbid! writing up!) I won’t be suddenly and unexpectedly blind-sided by this massive gap that I don’t know what to do with.

I don’t have a photo of one, but I tend to keep a ‘To Do’ list of all of these little gaps separately, so that I can work through them and get them sorted out when I’m not at my desk staring at the document too.

Step 3 – Narrative Arcs and Plotting Tension

I fully confess that Stage 3 is the one I understand the theory behind the least. However, I do find it useful, and I recommend at least giving it a bit of a go. I promise that it will tell you something!

Plotting stage 3

Basically, I sit down with my plot-points and try to measure the average tension of each chapter of the story. I tend to use a scale of 1-10, but that’s mostly because that’s the extent of my estimating-expertise. You may find that you are more comfortable in talking about ‘the tension’ of a chapter, and may have more nuance in your estimates.

Ch.19 - The Tragedy of Backstory - Part 1The point here is largely to check that you have a steady over-all rise and fall of tension, but also to check that the tension does actually rise and fall in a sensible manner, and that the various plot threads do in fact intersect at some point! There’s nothing worse than a book with three plots, not one of which relates to any of the others, right?

When I planned this plot initially, I found that I’d built up nice and evenly to the climax, lots of good narrative tension going on, and then the story basically stopped! Clearly that’s not ideal, so I shifted some of the explanatory dialogue and some of the personal resolutions further towards the end so that there was more of a winding down of tension and the reader will (hopefully) not feel that the book just stopped and dropped them.

Everything will hopefully feel nicely resolved and wrapped up.

Step 4 – The Check List!

Finally we get to what I tend to call ‘The Final Stage’ of planning; the stage where everything I’ve learned and considered and decided comes together into a check-list of sorts that I can have next to me while I’m writing and just check off as I go.

Plotting stage 4

This stage is really just about getting a clean copy of the planned out plot so I can start writing. It’s got as much detail in it as I possibly can think of, it’s got draft chapter titles, it’s got everything!

I very rarely get chance to just sit down for a full day and write uninterrupted. Between a full-time job, and friends, and family and keeping up with laundry and cleaning and all that other fun stuff, writing just has to be done in the snatches of time I have spare some weeks!

As a result, having the most detailed plan I possibly can means that I’m much more likely to end up with a first draft that is tonally consistent and doesn’t wander off into wild tangents because I had a blank space and a flight of fancy at the same time! As I said last time, having a plot all planned out also means I’m less likely to get discouraged because I can’t remember what was going to happen next and now I have no inspiration to think of something different. The less I leave to my poor over-worked brain while I type away into the dark of night, the better!

And there you have it! I’m sure that there are loads of other great ways to plan out a plot, and if you have a method that works, please do come and tell me about it in the comments! There’s never not something to be learned from a fellow-writer!

New to this blog? Check out some of the rest of this series – or indeed try out some of my original fiction! – down here:

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Posted in Chronicles in Creation

Plotting! (For Non-Super Villains) – Part 1

In which there are many ways to plan out your novel, but why bother taking all that time?

Greetings everyone!

So, I know I’ve had a lot of time away from all you lovely people, but in my defence I have been doing Actual Writing for the Novel! I know, I amaze myself sometimes…

Ch.23 - Plotting for Non-Super VillainsAnyway, while I’m buried under a pile of trying to remember how sentences combine to make chapters, I thought I’d share with you some of the ways in which I planned my novel; what order I tackle things in, and how each method helps me. Obviously, as I have been repeating since the beginning of this series, this is in no way intended to be any kind of ‘How To’ on the ‘correct way to plan a novel’, because I generally feel that no one should ever look to me for guidance on the right ways to do anything (I have far too much trial-and-error, with a strong emphasis on the error!) but if you are currently plotting out a story, or trying to, or will want to some time in the future, then hopefully this will prove useful!

Part 2 of Plotting! (For Non-Super Villains) can be found here.

Why Plot Ahead?

So you know how it goes: you get this really great idea for a story, and you just know it’s a strong one, and you’ve got all these great characters to go in it, and there’s going to be all these exciting twists and turns and you want to just start writing immediately! Get going while it’s all fresh in your mind. You might forget the best bits otherwise! And you’re all fired up with enthusiasm and muse-vibes!

Why risk all that by taking a step back and wasting time with planning it all out on paper before you get going?

Now, I do have to acknowledge, here and now, that plotting out your story before you write it isn’t for everyone, that there are amazing cryptids out there called ‘pantsers’, as in they write by the seat of their pants. For those of you not familiar with these magical beings, these are writers that can just sit down at their keyboards and just know what to do without struggling about and they just… they just write a novel. Without planning. Or like… needing to know what comes next!

To all of you such magical beings out there, I am in awe of your mad skills but I really don’t know how you do it!

Failing such wondrous gifts, I feel that planning out a story before you sit down and devote time and effort and everyone else’s sanity to it has several advantages:

The Light At The End Of The Tunnel

For one thing, I find that having a whole story planned out means I’m far less likely to abandon the project. (This may or may not have been a common issue in my early writing career. And my current career. Um.)

Ch.22 - So You Want To Draw A Map - Part 2
Before we dive into designing our own maps, let’s take a good long look at other famous maps and see what lessons they can teach us all.

I can’t lose my train of thought if Life gets in the way for a while and I need to put the project down for a few days: my train of thought is already there in the broad strokes and the writing process just fills in the details. Jotting everything out in as much detail as I can while the ideas are fresh, shuffling them hurriedly into order while the shape of the story is there right behind my eyelids is a great help. I’ll have a beginning, middle and end of the story all laid out and even if I get a bit lost in the middle (more on that in a minute) I’ll still have signs and clues to get me back on track.

As a result, I don’t get discouraged so easily, and can at the very least force myself to bash out the roughest of rough first drafts to fling at a friendly beta reader who can try and explain where the madness has crept in!

What Is My Story Anyway?

Terry Pratchett once said of first drafts that they were “essentially just telling yourself the story.” That’s how I feel about writing up my plan for a story.

I might start off with some initial ideas, but it’s only by jotting all those ideas down, shuffling them around and generally corralling them until they start making sense that I can find the story that’s been floating around in my head for ages. And having told myself that story the first time, I can start to get a better feel for things like; what kind of story is it? What kind of tone should I aim for? What kind of audience? Where might it fit with other stories of mine?

It’s also a useful stage for me to try and identify any weak points in the plot, any areas where I might have made a leap of intuition or just have left a big gap in my plot which needs to be thoughts about and fixed.

For example, I find that it’s common for me to easily plan up to the middle of a story when things are about to pretend to go right for the protagonist, or the tension’s the highest, and then… well I know the ending! I have the last chapter! But no, I have no idea how we got from Point F to Point M.

Not a single clue!

Alternatively, I might have a character with a big role in the first half of the book who has apparently completely disappeared around chapter 9, never to return! Well, if he vanished like that, did I really need him at the start? If not, I could maybe combine his character with another person with a role in the second half who maybe showed up around chapter 7. If he did in fact need to be there the whole time, is there any way he can be tied to the end? If not, I can still make a note that I need to write him out properly.

Aren’t I glad that I’ve spotted that at this initial stage?

What Is My Story Actually Saying Though?

Ch.21 Hide and Seek MacGuffins
When you need to hide the Magic Thingy, but you don’t know where? Well, we have a few suggestions…

Finally, plotting everything out in details allows me to try and identify any themes or ideas that I especially like and would like to develop more fully. We writers can really mine gold-dust out of our subconscious given half a chance, but we don’t need to leave such gold-dust in its raw form. Spotting something I really love at an early stage allows me to try and make the most of anything that will make my story stand out and shine among all the others, and the earlier I find it, the better it can be integrated.

Conversely, it is worth acknowledging – as I will also discuss in more detail in another post – that some of our ideas, once we write them down on paper, are terrible. Now, I know that everyone’s criteria for something they neither want to write nor read will be different. But I am currently trying to properly unpick how I managed to write in a major over-arching theme into the whole series of my novels that I flat-out disagree with and will not stand behind.

It’s not that I set out to write a theme that in the cold light of a new day is kind of xenophobic, because of course I didn’t! But it can happen that you have one idea, and then another one, and another one and individually none of them are bad or even questionable at all. And then they all start coming together and make up a pattern between them that… well, that could raise some eyebrows, let’s say.

The point I’m making is that one of the reasons I think many creators respond defensively to audiences of their work objecting to certain themes which they did not intend to be in their work lies in how much blood, sweat and tears they’ve expended in making that work. No, they might not agree with every aspect of their own creation, but trying to back down from a completed piece is extremely difficult. You’ve spent months and years slaving over that work, and it can be extremely difficult to look at the finished product and acknowledge that there’s something kind of messed up lurking right there in the middle where you didn’t spot it.

I’m sure I’m not alone in the level of personal investment I have for my work, even when it’s terrible and bad.

Ch.9 Fantasy Idioms - A Shortcut to Writing a New Language
Creating your own Colloquialisms: a shortcut to writing a new language! Have fun with words…

But by planning everything out in detail, in the event that I notice something I’m not going to be proud of myself for writing, there’s a lot less of a connection to any single part(s) of my whole. As you’ll see in Part 2, which is full of pictures of my personal planning process, although unpicking a particular plot-thread is difficult and time-consuming, it’s also not so emotionally draining. Either I’m discarding bullet-points in a document, or colour-coded post-its, and neither of these took a lot out of me in terms of eloquent word-play or refined story-telling. They were ideas, and on consideration they weren’t that good.

Essentially, planning – for me, at least – is the practise run. It’s the equivalent of speaking your ideas out loud and checking that they all sound as good outside of your head as they did while still inside of it. If story-telling was dress-making, it would be the mock-up.

And for me at least, no matter how tempting it might be to just sit down and get writing straight away when I have a good idea, I think it’s the most vital step you can take.

Part 2 of Plotting! (For Non-Super Villains) can be found here.


If this is your first time on this blog: Hi! Chronicles in Creation is an on-going series in which I discuss various aspects of writing and world-building in more-or-less real time, screw ups and all!

If you’d like to see some of my actual original fiction; check out the Ghosts & Gowns series and see what you think!




Posted in Chronicles in Creation

The Terror of WIPs…

I know that I’ve been very quite lately, and lest you think that I have abandoned you all – and Ivan! – and my writing completely, I promise that I have not.

I can only give the following image as my reason for why:

The Terror of WIPs

Look at them! Just look! And these are just the ones that have a definite beginning and middle completed! No ending, sadly…

Dreadful, isn’t it?

Many Drafts...

I swear that at some point I will get my thoughts into a proper order and actually finish a train of thought soon! At least it’s Christmas time now and I have a short break from RL work in which to hear myself think!

If anyone has any good tips for tracking your thoughts down when they are scattered to all the winds, I would be most grateful! Otherwise I shall keep bumbling along on my keyboard, and eventually something will emerge blinking into the light to greet you all properly!

Hopefully I’ll have something completed by Christmas-proper, but failing this I shall see you all in the New Year!

New to this blog? Check out some of my other series down here:

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Posted in Chronicles in Creation

So You Want To Draw A Map? – Part 4

No Map Is An Island

Sorry about the title; I tried, really I did, but I couldn’t resist!

Anyway, we begin this post with a moment of silence for the unexpected perils of a writer’s life; in this case that moment when you’ve been researching maps in your lunch-break, then something goes wrong and you call in the IT crowd. They come up and start minimising windows and there’s a brief moment of confusion because emblazoned across the screen all of a sudden is the word ‘MAPPORN’.

To be clear, as I hastened to explain to a colleague now laughing so hard he’s crying, Map Porn is a twitter account filled with – what else? – historical and fictional maps. There’s also a reddit site, but I don’t understand how to navigate it so you’ll have to check that out on your own if you’re interested.

This is like that time we were all explaining to our IT guys that ‘Bookshelf Porn’ was genuinely just a website full of pictures of especially nice looking bookcases, isn’t it? (Does anyone else remember Bookshelf Porn?)

Anyway, the result of this is that my Star Trek-critiquing buddy IT guy now thinks I may be too nerdy for him.

Writers: We wrote the book on weird. Literally.


First Things First…

So, why do I need to draw this map?

So in my last post, wherein I flailed around drawing a map for a king without a kingdom, I mentioned that sometimes the only way to draw the maps that you want is to start drawing and keep doing so until you reach something that looks right.

And in the spirit of that idea, I tried to think of something I am not very good at in drawing and combine that with something I didn’t have much of a pre-conceived image to work from. Sort of a ‘two things that already taste bad but put together become tolerable’ exercise, I guess.

To that end I decided to tackle drawing a cluster of islands, an archipelago for the technical of you reading this, and combine that with drawing a land for my dwarves to live in.

Now dwarves have a little bit more in folklore for me to work from than the Oak King did, which is always nice! Though not originally Celtic, they did come along with the Vikings when they settled in the North, so I’m including them anyway.

Ch.22 - So You Want To Draw A Map - Part 2Certainly we know the Anglo-Saxons took the dwarves into their folkloric hearts, because there is a record of the charm Wið Dweorh (Against a Dwarf) in the Lacnunga (‘Remedies’); a collection of miscellaneous Anglo-Saxon medical texts and prayers, written mainly in Old English and Latin. The charm, which involved writing the names of the biblically mythical Seven Sleepers of Ephesus onto seven wafers, then singing an alliterative verse three times, appears to cure sleep disturbances, although the translation’s a little iffy and might instead be tackling fevers or warts. Whatever it was, you know a creature-concept has made it into folkloric canon when they are texts on how to get rid of it!

Also is anyone else kind of convinced that this is the Anglo-Saxon version of telling your child to count sheep if they can’t sleep? This definitely seems suspiciously familiar…

What we know of dwarves for map-drawing purposes is, as I say, more helpful than with the Oak King, but that’s saying little. It was said that there were originally four dwarves, named Norðri, Suðri, Austri and Vestri (Old Norse ‘North, South, East, and West’) who held up the sky, although they also must have had hella mating skills, because the Prose Edda and Poetic Edda (our two main sources for Viking legends) contain mention of over a hundred dwarves by name.

Ch.14 Making Men of Myths - Part 2Their world was named Nidavellir (Old Norse for ‘Dark Fields’), no one is allowed to ask me how to pronounce it, and one of their other functions in myth was to guard doorways in the mountains which allow access between the worlds. It also seems to be the same place as Myrkheim (‘Dark Home’ or ‘World of Darkness’), and I am happy to say that we have directions!

Yes, you too may visit the dwarves, although why on earth you’d want to is up for debate. I mean, the things I would do to get my hands on the Mead of Poetry are many and terrible, but the risk of cursed treasure, being turned to stone or simple death strikes me as a little off-putting…

Anyway, the directions go as follows:

Stóð fyr norðan, / á Niðavöllom / salr úr gulli / Sindra ættar

Before you reach the north, A dark dwelling stands, In halls of gold, Sindri’s bloodline lives.

Völuspá (Prophecy of the Völva)

So compasses out, all you adventurers! Send us postcards, if you can because as we all know the directions of seeresses are easy to follow and never misleading at all.

It seems to be a charming place to live; not only characterised by its darkness (and therefore possibly underground) its other chief feature is the never ending mist. Another name for the place (welcome to folklore, where every time we mention something it gets a new name, despite clearly being the same place) is Niflheim or ‘Abode of Mist or ‘Mist World’.

The story goes that Niflheim was the second world created, and placed right next door to Muspelheim, the world of fire. Being naturally cold and damp in Niflheim, the end result was massive clouds of fog and steam. I did read one translation that called it a ‘creating steam’ so maybe it was actually a lovely place once you got there?

Stage One – Ideas!

Well, clearly we can’t just have a world populated four dwarves, that would be sad!

Alternatively, if I grouped dwarves into clans, then that sorts out the population issues pretty well. Four major dwarvish clans then, each lead by mighty warriors, named for their respective forebears. I like it.

And since the original dwarf myths are Viking, instead of drawing one big world for these clans to live in, I thought I’d go for a collection on islands. Island chains have very diverse cultures, as each island is encouraged by separation to develop their own very distinct societies, and you just don’t see enough sea-going dwarves in literature, which is an image I really like.

Ch.20 - The Magic that Walks Among UsSo the obvious first thing we need are four main islands, positioned in the North, South, East and West. Since the world of the dwarves had so many different names throughout the recorded sagas, I could see if I can name each of them after a different legend’s moniker.

It might not be an original interpretation, but it’s a start and this map could pretty much be summarised as ‘Hey, It’s a start!’

And we’ll need some smaller islands too, partly because archipelagos have those (I checked), and partly because it gives each clan something to fight for and lose to each other, and win back through feats of strength or cunning, which is good for world-building.

Stage Two – Start Sketching (Badly)

OK, so draw a circle and quickly draw in four rough shapes, one at each point of the compass.

Islands 1Top Tip Time: If you are anything like me and feel the inescapable urge to have everything be perfect on the first try, I recommend closing your eyes for this bit. No really, close your eyes when you draw. You’re only drawing rough shapes anyway, and it will help you combat the urge to over-think everything.

I always find it a lot easier to develop and ‘fix’ something that already exists than try to create the sublimely perfect on the first attempt.

Still, looking at it now: Urgh!

Whoever saw a cluster of islands so regimented? And what on earth do I do with all that blank space in the middle?

I suppose I could do something like add another island in the middle, but then I’d have to name it and find a use for it…

No, I don’t like that idea, let’s have another go…

Stage Three – If At First You Do Not Succeed…

Brief Philosophical Moment: In try not to apologise for my weird little drawings anymore – bad first drafts lead to good final drafts. Blank paper leads to nothing.

Keep trying until you find something that works for your eyes, and then you’ll have the confidence to share it with others!

Islands 2OK, Round 2; here we come!

So this time, I’ve tried to sort-of squish the islands together a bit, crowding out some of that blank space with islands I actually want to be there.

And I’ve tried to give the islands a bit of a curve, closing the loop a bit to give a sens eof a complete little world.

Down at the bottom I’ve tried to give a sense that these islands are at least a little bit the product of contimental drift, like how Africa was once joined up with South America.

I’ve tried to combat the sense that everything’s too artifical with a perfect circle formation by gently off-setting the islands so that none of them are truly North, South, etc.

Islands 3This isn’t a bad try, but I’m pretty sure I can refine it.

Hang on.

OK, Round 3 is up and running. Now we’re even more squished up, and un-regimented. What do you think?

I feel like this map really shows my patented ‘Close your eyes and scribble, it probably won’t be as hideous as you think’ technique.

There’s a weird sense of freedom when you try this, and especially when you don’t really know what you want, it’s a helpful starting point.

At the very worst, you’ll open your eyes and think ‘OK, not that then.’ Drawing by process of elimination is as good a technique as any, I say!

I’ve added in a few little islands here and there, but all in all I’m pretty happy with this, let’s make this sketch look like an actual map, shall we?

Stage Four – Details!

This exercise has mostly been about finding a way to draw a cluster of islands I liked the look of, so when I say ‘Details’ what I mean is ‘An outline that doesn’t look like abstract art’.

Islands 4OK? OK.

And here we go! If you’re wondering how we got from Attempt 3 to Attempt 4, then the answer is fairly simple.

I put Attempt 3 under a blank sheet of paper, so that only the barest outline would show through. No tracing paper or light-behind-the-page technique, as that only encourages me in my over-thinking and tendancy to try to copy as much as possible from the previous draft.

Then I took a deep breath, made sure not to hold the pencil too tight and tried for the absolute most wiggly outline I possible could!

I’m actually really proud of the end result, and I have a bad tendancy towards drawing these smooth, flowing lines for coastlines, and they never look even remotely real. Just check out my last map for a good example!

You can see (hopefully) that in places I strayed a long way out of in from my guidelines, but that only helps the disorganisation of natural forms, I think.

All in all, I’m really pleased with this! Not bad for not knowing what I was doing!

What Next?

So, the next step for this map is enlarge it, make several copies of it and then start trying out different internal designs. Where to put the mountains and rivers and things.

But that’s for another day, and another map!

If you liked this post, why not check out the mapping mini-series masterpost for more ruminations about drawing and a discussion about a few uses for maps in a fantasy story?

Posted in Chronicles in Creation

So You Want To Draw A Map? – Part 3

A Kingdom for the Oak King

Right! Now on to the actual map-drawing!

(Note: If you’ve just stumbled into this post and are wondering what’s going on, please check out the series Masterpost for some form of context)

Norwich-Cathedaral-Green-Man-1So waaay back before Easter I did a little series talking about turning some big figures of folkloric legend into real, believable characters, and one of those was Jack O’Green, or The Oak King. So I know what he’s like, but what of his kingdom?

Now, with a character like Jack, who’s effectively the God of Nature and Green Stuff, it would be really easy to just picture and reference a huge forest and call it a day, but try drawing a map of that place and I worry that it could get boring for readers (and writers!) really easily. There’s only so much to be said and inferred from trees, after all.

First Things First…

So, why do I need to draw this map?

Well, one of the reasons why I needed to start tackling The Oak and Holly Kingdoms first was because I am working off a blank sheet here.

See, when I sit down to do Tir na Nog for the Fairy Queen, with her Seelie and the Erlking’s Unseelie courts, I’ll have something to work from. There are stories that tell me something about what can be found in that kingdom, people travel there (more or less willingly) and items originate there. I have clues I can start to piece together into something I like.

Green_Man_ceiling_boss_at_St_Helen_Witton_Church,_Northwich,_CheshireThe Green Man, on the other hand… He just doesn’t have anything like that.

The Green Man is quite literally a ‘Figure of Folklore’ in that he is a lone person, a character, an image… and nothing else. I said before that there aren’t really stories about him, he’s not a major feature in any legends; he’s a bit like Tom Bombadil in that he shows up, dances and sings and feeds everyone good things and then waltzes right out of your life with nary a ripple.

He has no named castle or palace to live in, no one goes on a quest to bargain or steal a MacGuffin from him, he doesn’t kidnap a fair maiden away to his lands. He’s a figure in green who dances at May Day celebrations and he shows up in church carvings.

That’s not a lot to work from…

Ch.5 The Power of Names -smallNow, there are some wonderful people out there who can work really well from a blank page, but I am definitely not one of them! I need some form of structure to hang my ideas off of, and so, to the drawing board we go!

The map doesn’t need to be especially detailed, or even close to what the kingdom will eventually look like.

When I don’t know what a place looks like, I just draw any and all options I can think of until I find one I like. It’s like a sped up form of evolution, where any ideas I think are especially good make it over from one draft to the next, and the weaker ones drop off until I have something I think works really well.

This map is not going to end up as a finished or final draft. It’s a first draft and all writers know what happens to first drafts! Mwahahahahaha!

Stage One – Ideas!

So before I started drawing, I sat down and thought about what I could include in a kingdom dedicated to a Nature God. I thought to myself, ‘Well, hey, obviously plants, but there are plenty of plant-environments out there, let’s include as many as possible.’

Top Tip Time: When setting off on world-building missions, I watch a lot of David Attenborough. Nature came up with cool ideas long before we got hold of them, and seeing the huge scale and complexity of the world we live in helps me think of options I had simply not considered. Look at the themed shows; they’re different environments, areas that can support life which you might not have thought of, how specialised life has to be to survive in certain climates, and areas that will support a lot of lifeforms together.

So here’s a short list of the one’s I thought would go together well:

  • Coniferous Forest
  • Deciduous Forest
  • Grass lands/Plains
  • Heath-land/Moorland
  • Swamps
  • Marshes
  • Arctic Tundra
  • Desert

Ch.14 Making Men of Myths - Part 3Those last two may seem a bit weird to include to you, but my rational was that there is still plant-life in both of these environments, and they are both fascinating and really tough. For a fairy-tale world rooted deeply in a sense of dark pragmatism, it seemed appropriate to include some of the toughest vegetation on the planet.

Also, I did think about including such things as rain-forests and mangrove swamps, but I wasn’t sure I could get everything onto one landmass and I just can’t quite see Jack O’Green, famously English folkloric figure hanging out in a rain-forest.

Stage Two – Start Sketching (Badly)

Right, so having gathered up my various different areas to be included, I needed to sketch out where and how they would fit together. I started at the top and bottom, putting in the desert in the South where it could be expected to be warmer, and the tundra in the north, which is appallingly Northern-hemisphere of me, and I now that people in Australia or New Zealand have a different experience. Sometimes you just end up going with what you know, but I’d be really interested in seeing a different take on fantasy maps that play around with the notions of compass directions and whatnot.

Landmass 1

So currently my sketch looks like this:

(I know that I can’t spell Deciduous, I’m sorry…

I write because spelling is hard!)

Anyway, you can see that I basically just squished what started out as circles of environment together into this overlapping mass of different lands. The idea being that all of these places would have their own cultures and peoples living there, but it still feels very much like one kingdom ruled by one person who has a specific ascetic going on.

I experimented a lot in this early stage with where to put things, and how big certain areas would be, and I was still tinkering with it even while moving the drawing onto the next stage! You’ll probably note that all my maps start out with this big slightly ugly sketching stage where I just play around with vague ideas until things start to feel right.

I recommend making all your early sketches look a little bit messy and unattractive – it makes throwing away a bad idea much easier than it will be if you put time and effort into making it look all pretty and fantastical, only to decide that you don’t like the ideas it’s illustrating so much now you’ve slept on it for a week.

Stage Three – Insert Backbones

Right! No more disembodied shapes, now to make it look like a real map!

First to draw a coastline, it’s not a very imaginative one, but this is only a first draft after all. I need to get better at this whole ‘wiggly line’ thing, because fighting my urge to just draw straight from A to B is not what coastlines are all about!

Landmass 2

And to add in some mountain ranges to start dividing up the kingdom a bit. Not too much following of the old sketch-lines, but then again landscapes don’t tend to follow nice interlocking curves anyway.

A big mountain range to separate the desert part a bit, and a little off-shoot range to make the grass-lands look a bit more interesting. (No, I’m not avoiding drawing grass for ages, what are you talking about?)

Lots more mountains in the north, but I associate pine forests and heaths with mountains anyway, so I guess that makes sense. The marshland has been squished out a little, I may need to think about that a bit more…

Too much mountain? Possibly, but I like drawing mountain ranges, and I’m not all that great at trees on maps, so maybe that’s best for everyone! I need to put some serious practice into drawing forests at some point, but it is not this day.

Stage Four – Details!

Right, let’s turn all these elements into a proper map, shall we?

Landmass 3There’s rivers and lakes to be added, trees to put in and grass to draw. I put in some lighter lines on the mountains so they look prettier (I have priorities, you know, and mountains are all of them…)

Please excuse the terrible place-holder names! As everyone who’s read my Power of Names post knows, this is not an area I have a whole lot of imagination in at all!

Does anyone have any tips on how to draw swampland to look different from marshland? I had absolutely no idea, so it’s been left blank for a bit until I think of something! Any recommendations in the comments will be gratefully received!

I jotted in a couple of places I could imagine a city being positioned too, although taking a second look at this, none of them are near a good source of water, so the second attempt at this map is definitely going to be tackling this problem better!

What Next?

Well, I once wrote a post, In Defence of Doing Nothing, which I swear wasn’t totally an advert for idleness! Essentially I believe in letting ideas sit for a bit before going back to them. Like with editing, it gives me a bit of distance to decide if I’m attached to an idea or not.

So there’ll be some other maps and whatnot, I’ll have a bit of a play around and do a bit more research to see if there’s any folklore that I think I can make off with and apply.

Then I’ll redraw the map, probably a bit larger. There were a few places on this draft that got a bit squished as I ran out of space, so a bit of extra space will be a bonus. It will also allow me to put more detail in, and think about what kind of settlements Jack O’Green’s lands would need or want.

As always, I hope that this was helpful to some of you and interesting at least for others!

If you did like this post, do check out the Chronicles in Creation series here, and if you have any cool ideas for The Green Man’s kingdom, please do drop me a note in the comments – it’s great to hear what other people think after all!

See you next time, everyone!