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Website of author and professional editor Rachelle M. N. Shaw. Find information about her books, her editing services, and her blog, From Mind to Paper: On Writing and Editing.

From Mind to Paper: On Writing and Editing

From Mind to Paper is a blog for writers, editors, and those interested in the English language. It covers a multitude of writing topics, from punctuation and grammar to plot development, character development, and world building. In addition to in-depth articles about various writing topics, this blog also has a number of series posts, which are currently being transformed into a nonfiction series on writing.

Maps Are Key - Repost

Rachelle M. N. Shaw

In the transition of importing my blog posts from my Blogger account, there was one post that was lost. Seeing as it was posted so long ago but was still pertinent to my other writing advice posts, I wanted to share it with you guys once again. Maps Are Key - Original Post:

There are a lot of places I could start when giving advice to new writers and/or editors. Be open. Try different things. Writer about things that inspire you. But I'm not going to start with any of those things. In fact, I'm going to start with a part of writing that doesn't even involve writing for the most part: maps.

Sooner or later, you will need to create a map for your writing. Probably several. You'll need to have many different types of maps too. You'll need an outline of your projected piece of writing, for example, which literally serves as a map to the work you're going to create. Even if you're writing non-fiction, this holds true. If your story is one of fiction, you'll still need an outline, but you'll also need a different kind of map, and maybe more than one. You'll need a literal, physical map of the area you plan on covering in your story. What do I mean by that? Well, if your story takes place in a school, for instance, you should draw a map of that school. If part of the story takes place in a house or several houses, you should come up with the layout of them. If your story takes place in a made up world, draw a map of that world. And yes, this does mean that you'll have to use the ancient method of pencil/pen to paper for a while. If the ominous glow of the computer screen is too much for you to resist, it's faint humming beckoning for you to stroke it's various keys....well, just forget about it for now, okay? Turn it off, leave the room, and don't come back until you have a few maps drawn (or at least started) and an outline written.

Keep in mind, this doesn't mean that you can't do any writing at all until your maps and outline are complete. Most of the time, I get a beginning paragraph or two, jot down a few ideas in a notepad, and even hammer out a few character descriptions in Word or Excel before I set to drawing maps and writing outlines. And my maps constantly change shape. But drawing maps for your story forces you to step back from your writing before you get in so deep that you have to go back and figure out the structure of everything, and it keeps you well organized along the way. Particularly for longer books and novels, maps serve as very useful guides for keeping your story descriptions straight. You might have a general idea of how a place looks in your head, but sooner or later, you'll need details. You'll find yourself revisiting places in your story, and you don't want to contradict in a later part of your story what you said in the beginning. Consistency is key to good writing. Maps help you to be consistent, which in turn, makes your writing more accurate and believable.

You might think I'm someone who just loves to draw maps. On the contrary. I actually despise this part of writing. I'm not exactly skilled with it, and because I don't enjoy doing it, I tend to scribble enough down to get me through the story. That's not always exactly the best approach, especially considering I usually have to go back and redo a portion of my maps (which must be deciphered first since I didn't do a great job at depicting what I wanted the first go around) at one time or another during the writing process. Moral of the story? Take your time with maps. Draw them carefully. A lot of them. They'll help improve your writing skills before you ever even do any actual writing.

Though my early scribbles are usually made on computer paper or in a sketch pad, I really recommend using graph paper or drafting paper. It's easy to work with, especially if you have trouble drawing straight lines like I do, and it will help you keep everything in proportion. You'll be able to peg a more exact size of the areas you are covering in your book.

As you can see, maps really are essential to good story writing, for both fiction and non-fiction. Make maps an integral part of the writing process, and I guarantee your chances of writing a clear description or transition between sections will increase before you even set pen to paper. Or fingers to keyboard.