Monday, November 26, 2012

Map Your Way to Your Story's Emotional Truth

     While working on a writing project, author Susan Campbell Bartoletti recalls drawing a map of the neighborhood she lived in as a child as well as her childhood home. As she sketched the house plans, memories of events and emotions associated with each room flooded back. That simple exercise helped her establish a deeper connection to her story, she said at a November conference of the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators in Illinois.
     I did this same exercise a few months ago during a revision. Even though I had a (very) rough layout of my character's neighborhood on notebook paper, I redrew the map on poster board. It helped to connect me again with the physical surroundings of the story. When one of the characters was chased through the streets and into an abandoned building, I could trace his path on the map. Running six blocks at full-speed would have a much different effect on him than running two blocks. Was I clear enough in describing how he felt as he hid inside the building, waiting to see if the antagonist would find him? Would it really take him 15 minutes to walk that same path like I previously had written?  In another chapter, two characters walk from home to school, taking the city streets to get from one place to another. But looking at the map I'd drawn, I see that going through a park is a short cut. How might these new surroundings affect their actions and dialogue? Might it change the dynamics of the story? These questions popped up only after I had drawn the map.
      Think about the project you're working on now. What is your inspiration for the setting? Is there a connection to a real place? Who cares if you're not an artist — this isn't about creating a masterpiece drawing. Postboard and a pack of colored pencils won't help you discover your inner artist but it can bring out hidden elements of your story.  Making the map was also a fun distraction from the actual writing, even though I was technically still working on the manuscript.
     Have you ever mapped your setting?


  1. Wow, Dawn, this sounds like a great idea. I'm glad it proved to be worthwhile for you. I'll admit, I often struggle with connecting to the setting of my stories. Perhaps it's time I give this a try.
    Thanks so much for sharing.

  2. Yes. I needed to more accurately visualize my setting. I drew the entire town (very crudely I might add) to include the street names, business establishments along Main Street, school, library and woods where the characters often hang out. It was a really helpful exercise. I highly recommend doing this if your setting isn't an actual place.

  3. Yes! I also choose floorplans for characters' homes or other important buildings.

  4. Great idea. I have maps for the historical fiction I am working on. I refer to them a lot.

  5. hi miss dawn! im a really good blogger friend of miss sharon mayhew. i saw your a follower for her. im telling lots of her followers and friends tomorrow on december 6th is her birthday. if you wanna you could tell her happy birthday. her email is
    ...smiles from lenny

  6. He, he. Yes, I do draw my settings and I am probably one of the worst artist's ever. I actually have to label my work because you can't tell what it is by looking at it. So...for my characters, rather than drawing them, I cut them out of magazines.


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