Creating a landscape

One of the less visible aspects of writing a narrative fiction book (i.e. from the imagination), is that you aren’t just creating a time and a place but a whole nation. As I started to develop The Line of Duty some 20 years ago, I started to realise that I needed a map in my mind of the kingdom itself. That quickly expanded to needing the whole of the three continents involved in my story.

It began with needing to know who held the power in each of the nations and how that changed over time as the Empire invasion spread North. I built this in an Excel spreadsheet. I kid you not! I’ve still got it, as a matter of fact.

Image of my original spreadsheet mapsThe purpose here was to show progression – and I still use the spreadsheet to that end – with different tabs for the different phases of time.

It was into this spreadsheet that I gave every nation a name, as well. It was a painstaking job, I recall because I’d managed to create a huge number of different countries. I know that some of the ones in the south are distortions of the surnames of people I was working with at the time. Others came from looking at random street signs and simply reordering letters.

It was quite some time later that I moved into a more traditional type of map – around the time that I was first preparing to publish and knew I needed something more polished. As far as I recall, I sketched something out by hand at first, and then imported that into a very basic graphics editor (Paint, almost certainly).

It was a painstaking job to create a proper graphical representation of my invented lands because I an NOT a graphic designer. There may be better ways but I did it pixel by pixel in a lot of cases. I’m not convinced now if all that effort back then was necessary, or just a way for me to procrastinate from starting to approach publishers!

I don’t quite remember when I came across the wonders of PaintShop and the ability to have different layers to my image but that made a huge difference for me. By the time Line of Duty was published, I know I had the basic landscape and things like regions and political colours on different layers which I could turn on and off. Now, I also have a layer for each book – so I can put in places of importance which may not be relevant in other books. These are the layers I use for the graphic which features in the published edition.

It had never occurred to me prior to that, just how many skills are needed in writing a book. You don’t just sit down and write – you have to build entire landscapes in which to put people in.

And that’s a whole different world!!

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