View Full Version : Is drawing a map or creating a language part of making a good historic fantasy book?

05-28-2011, 12:12 AM
I love fantasy books that are based in older times, but is creating a map or language necessary?

Scott Kaelen
05-28-2011, 12:44 AM
Hey Aureluis ;) Let me swing in and say that I created the outline of a map of a continent which was similar to Europe, the Middle East, the edge of Asia and the northern tip of Africa, and a smaller map of a quite different British Isles and surrounding islands.
I don't think it's necessary for the readers. David Gemmell for instance gave us very few maps, but did we need them? Hell no! No maps from Michael Moorcock either. Okay, we got them from Tolkien and Tad Williams and... a whole bunch of others.
I say, go with it, at least for your own points of reference, especially to keep yourself on track with where people are in the world/universe/dungeon/whatever.
I'll be continuing with my maps slowly, for sure.

As for languages, I dislike a new language like Kliingon, for instance. But by all means incorporate variances of language from around our own globe. Certain words, or similarities to words, from another language like Scandinavian, perhaps.
Or use the grammar structure of a foreign language, but written in English. For instance, the simple German sentence - Ich habe für dir etwas gemacht - translates word for word into English as I have for you something done. Just a few suggestions there :)

05-28-2011, 12:58 AM
Pretty much no specific thing is absolutely necessary.

Liosse de Velishaf
05-28-2011, 01:07 AM
You don't need anything that isn't absolutely required by the plot, but there's nothing wrong with having those things if they don't interfere with the story.

05-28-2011, 02:26 AM
Nope, not at all. And keep in mind that when it comes to those maps you see, most aren't actually drawn by the author and were commissioned by the publisher.

Include what you think your story needs, not what you think others think it needs.

05-28-2011, 02:53 AM
I'm writing an adventure high fantasy, and I have found it very helpful to have a map to look at. Admittedly, I rarely look at it, but I feel that since I drew it out, I have had a much better understanding of where everything is. Maps, for me, prevent me from contradicting myself in regards to direction. i.e. X city is southwest of Y city, not southeast.
Of course, you do not need a map. The small your world is, the less important and helpful it becomes. IDK what the scal of your plot is, so...

I have dabbled in the idea of a language. It's fun, but definitely not necessary. A language can add a lot, but if done incorrectly, it can definitely make your story worse. I failed at making my language consistent, and had to go back and rework a lot of the words (fortunately I didn't use much).

That being said, neither is necessary. I suggest spending fifteen minute sketching out a map, because it is fun. I suggest, not working with a new language unless it is central to your story or adds a lot to the world.

Arcadia Divine
05-28-2011, 05:45 AM
Neither is necessary, especially languages. Although I always draw a map for the reader to look at. As far as languages, the closest thing I came to creating one is a codified magic system.

05-28-2011, 06:11 AM
It's not any more necessary than creating a new calendar system, new clothing style, or new cuisine.

Though any of these things are, of course, do-able. Eventually if nothing's different than the real world, it becomes contemporary or a historical. I've enjoyed books with maps and new languages and ones without. I love languages and spend some time developing the phonology for various groups, but this mostly just gives flavor to the names of people and places. I enjoy it, and I figure someone else might consciously or subconsciously notice that there are some nice details in place.

05-28-2011, 08:15 AM
Not at all.

Although I find it helpful to make maps for my own reference, because my spatial memory is rubbish. >.< If I don't keep straight what's where, I'm going to contradict myself all over the place.

If you think a new language is necessary for your story, then go for it, but don't worry about needing one.

A.V. Hollingshead
05-28-2011, 10:01 AM
*coughs* If it's historic fantasy, there are already maps and languages for you to use.

But in general, no, you don't need either. Some stories suffer from having too many frivolities, in fact. Whatever you need for your story, think about it. If there is a lot of complex travel (particularly with two or more parties), then a map may be convenient if you can't just keep notes (i.e., Maine is northeast of New York is equally efficient; but having two armies coming from different places heading through nine terrains is less so). If there is a lot of miscommunication amongst cultures, then a conlang would perhaps be beneficial. But maybe you are writing a story about the king's chef, in which case it very likely isn't.

05-28-2011, 12:52 PM
I find maps useful for plotting time and distance. My characters journey quite a lot, and a map is a great tool to work out how long its going to take them to get to their destination, without there being any contradictions.

Euan H.
05-29-2011, 12:52 AM
I've just started having to sketch out a map. I'm 95,000 words into a novel draft, and as I just made up the setting as I went along, I'm having to flip back in the draft to check locations of things. So, the map's necessary, eys, but it's necessary for me, not the reader.

05-29-2011, 02:34 AM
I've sketched a map for my own use. I also keep an "encyclopedia" of facts about the world I've created, family histories, the religion, etc. so that I can reference as needed and keep the story straight. I've tried making a map using software but found it incredibly tedious. I don't have that kind of time.

But no, I don't think it's necessary for the readers. I just find it useful in composing the story and keeping the facts of my world consistent.

05-29-2011, 11:24 AM
If they are historic, as in, Earth history, well... Unless you want to play Daniel Jackson, no. I think people will imagine that they aren't talking English. And they can always look up historic maps. Heck, it's not even needed in sci-fi. I just do it because it's fun and the biological differences create linguistic and cognitive differences that I want to note. But a part of it, not really.

06-01-2011, 09:33 AM
I have one map I drew early on which is now completely wrong, but since I know what parts of it are wrong, I've not really felt need to draw another one.

06-01-2011, 10:01 AM
If the thought of creating a map or a language has halted the writing of your book... if it's crippling your decision to explore the genre... if it's in any way causing you to doubt your ability to write the book... then no, it's not necessary. You should focus on writing.

If it's a part of your process, then by all means go for it. But don't use that as an excuse to not give it a shot.

06-01-2011, 10:06 AM
I highly recommend against creating a language unless you do extensive research in linguistics and philology. It's not necessary for a good fantasy book, and without the requisite background, it can make it worse rather than better.

Anna L.
06-01-2011, 10:11 AM
As a reader, I never pay attention to maps, and languages I can't understand are just annoying. A few invented words are fine though.

06-01-2011, 03:41 PM
Interesting question. I just finished doodling out my map for my book. It's not designed for the readers (although I'm one of those readers that love maps so I can see where I'm at in the story on the map!).

I want to make sure that in relative space that heading west takes me to the sea, heading east takes me to the huge glacier desert, etc and that when moving between two towns they cross River Aye and that it stays consistently named River Aye throughout my text. It also helps for me to gauge relative distances for travel times. It won't be required for reading the story, though, if I keep everything straight for myself.

06-02-2011, 02:41 AM
I love, love drawing maps for my stories. They also help in keeping everything in order (Was the Forest of Doom north of Deep Pit of Evil or the east?). Like someone mentioned above, they're also good in keeping track of distances and time.

I sometimes throw in an alien word or two but I don't try languages, not my thing. I can speak some Spanish and I'll use words from Spanish sometimes.

Are they part of making a good story? Nope. Write the story first, keep your map to yourself then you decide later whether to include it in the book.

I like to quote Glen Cook on this: "Maps set boundaries". They do. Once published, you are fixed in place. Unseen, you can add to new areas to your maps without tripping anyone up.

06-02-2011, 12:24 PM
As a reader, I never pay attention to maps, and languages I can't understand are just annoying. A few invented words are fine though.

Really? I'd almost prefer a book written from the POV of non-humans about non-humans in a non-human language. It would be more entertaining to me than everything being in English, which is not the greatest language for all occasions. Some languages get to the point with simpler words with more complex meanings even on Earth and one that fits a species seems more inviting.

Arcadia Divine
06-02-2011, 06:13 PM
I tried to construct a language and I failed epically. lol

06-02-2011, 08:15 PM
As a reader, I like the idea of maps - I considered them a nice addition with introducing the world.

As a writer, I make them for my own benefit to keep track of things and to avoid contradictions, etc. I don't think a map or 'new' language is required, but done well they can add layers of detail to the world.

06-02-2011, 08:28 PM
I draw maps, building floor plans, family trees, and basically a diagram of anything I can think of. Once I put something down on paper, I don't need to remember it anymore and so I can concentrate on the story and just refer to my diagrams as needed.

06-02-2011, 10:01 PM
I love fantasy books that are based in older times, but is creating a map or language necessary?

I hope not, as I never have. I doddle a bit to the check direction of a place/building with regard to my narrative, but never done a full blown map or used any other language, but English.

Latina Bunny
06-02-2011, 10:21 PM
No, I don't think maps and languages are necessary to making a story. However, maps could help with finding your locations and character's travels, etc. This does not have to be shown to the readers, though, just a reference for you to keep track of.

Basically, maps are just an additional thing, a little extra for readers. They could also be a reference for you, the author. Maps can help you avoid contradictions in your story world and such. However, mapping is not needed if you don't want to do it. :)

Since you say your story has some historical elements, maybe you can use historical/real maps, instead?

I would not recommend doing an entire language unless you have an expert/deep knowledge of linguistics or something. Languages may or may not deepen the world, but it is not necessary.

06-02-2011, 11:00 PM
Are maps and languages necessary? Nah. Are they FRICKIN' COOL? Hell yes. As a fan, I love being able to "see" these worlds, and if there's a well-constructed language to go with it, then those who wish to can geek out accordingly.

06-03-2011, 03:52 AM
Languages drive me nuts, both as a reader and a writer. I hate having to look up what the sentences mean. A couple words here and there, okay, but not any more than that.

That said, I do enjoy maps. I don't want to have to refer to them constantly but I do like seeing the world. I have a map for my book but that's more to help me keep things on track than anything. I also like drawing out/writing out floor plans for any major buildings in the story.

C. G. Hagy
06-03-2011, 07:45 AM
Consider this: Is it necessary to learn Quenya in order to appreciate Lord of the Rings? Hell no! Does it add something to the world? I would say yes, it makes it a little more believable. Does it matter that Tolkien created an entire language? Probably not, 99% of readers probably wouldn't have noticed if the elves were speaking any old gobbledygook.

Basically, if your story can stand on it's own, you shouldn't need to prop it up with fluffy elements. That said, I do use some foreign language in my own writing, but not for anything where the reader would need to know what is being said, mostly for place names and things like that. Why? Because "Ordo Corvus" sounds more official and natural for a Latin-speaking, Roman-inspired culture than "Order of the Raven", and the reader doesn't really need to know what the name translates to, it's not an integral part of the story.