World Creation: A Book From a Map

For fifteen minutes after every lunch when I was in grade six, from her desk in the far front corner of the room, Penny Gwillim read The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings to our class. I was already a storyteller by then, but those stories read by Penny Gwillim inspired me to write.

Tolkien populated his world with story. Every named element — person and place — had a purpose and story built into it. Every horizon hid a land beyond. Each name and land had a history and significance. This built boundless depth and breadth into Tolkien’s world. And, as these persons and places overlapped, so their purposes and stories intertwined.

Today’s post is about world building. It is about creating endless story potential by mapping instead of outlining.

My favourite Tolkien quote is this.

A story must be told or there’ll be no story, yet it is the untold stories that are most moving. I think you are moved by Celebrimbor because it conveys a sudden sense of endless untold stories: mountains seen far away, never to be climbed, distant trees (like Niggle’s) never to be approached — or if so only to become ‘near trees’ (unless in Paradise or N’s Parish).

— J.R.R. Tolkien (1945)

He also extolled, in the same letter (1945), “the heart-racking sense of the vanishing past”.

Tolkien’s underscoring of names and unexplored-places-beyond-horizons with histories and stories, to me, is a powerful way to build worlds.

Plotting and Pantsing

I am a plotter and a pantser. I typically write short stories and poems on my computer with no plotting nor sense of where the story is going, other than the steeping inspirational idea. Many of these stories and poems comprise my best writing. They sing and dance for others and me. Long stories and “important” poems I sketch, write on loose-leaf, then after several versions revise and edit further on computer.

The sketch is my tool of choice: a quick list, map or outline of places, events, scenes and characters that I typically then ignore and pants around. On the continuum of pantsing to plotting, I believe most writers do some form of sketching a little in each story. Usually I sketch after I get a good start on a story.

A Sudden Insight

I have been writing several unrelated magical-realism shorts over the years. I label these as fantastic folktales. They are subtle stories, with that unmistakable undercurrent of impossibility and fantastic flowing through them. They are explorations of my imagination and my craft, vents of my passion. They have different styles, different characters, different premises, nothing really connecting them.

One morning a couple of weeks ago, I woke with the idea of creating a map for one of these stories. And to this map I added the landscape of another story, then another. Suddenly, these stories all fit together. They even had a chronology to them. Further, the map and story element connections suggested several connector and origin shorts. And under them was that hidden undercurrent of overarching fantastic which suggested it own story.

It seems so obvious, with that map and the similarity of the genre of the stories, that the stories belong together, that beneath them was a larger, suggested, untold story.

Several of the stories are ready for publishing. Others need fleshing and tweaking. But this is a project I am excited to pursue. This is a book I want to write.

It would be just if my first book contained a selection of my short stories, which each took a short while to write, rather one of my long ones that I have worked on and played with for so long. And to discover this potential in an odd urge to create a single-short story map is thrilling.

My Take on Plots and Maps

Plots come in many forms. Some plots originate from intuitive exploration (pantsing). Some from first drafts. Some from outlines. Others from maps.

Maps also build worlds (more) and, unlike the constriction of outlines, manifest unending stories, just like Tolkien’s names and horizons.

Every map is an outline to endless stories. Details and names infill a world with story. Horizons in space and history inspire a broader and deeper world and more story.

A Comparison of Outlining and Mapping

Outline maps out a story. Like a pathfinder of new lands and events, it explores the lands and events and chops a route through them. The path it picks clearly leads further travel through the lands and events. But it also restricts the possibilities of exploration. It winds from point A to point B, however complex the labyrinth of its trail. Further travel may head off the outline, but in doing so will clear its own route — its own outline — between A and B.

The outline is a good guide and even its winding and rolling trails and oxbow loops can be revised into a smooth road.

Map outlines a world. It does not blaze a trail from point A to point B, but instead suggests wilderness (forests, oceans, city blocks), encounters and adventure between and far beyond the two points. The map opens new places, new events and new context to explore — in fact, uncounted places and events, and burgeoning context. But more importantly it reveals endless new places, events and context to explore once the current story is complete. And a map can be grown. Its limits can be pushed deeper and farther beyond what the map revealed before. Horizons always have story beyond them. Unnamed places can always be named.

The map is an atlas of unending potential tales. It is not direct and smooth like an outline, but it reveals possibilities and twists the outline misses.

Used together, the map and the outline can guide the writer to and through grand stories. The outline unearths and shepherds a story. The map opens and reveals a world of stories. Just like Tolkien emphasized.

How do maps influence your stories and build your worlds? Join the conversation. Comment below.

Resources

World-building Resources

Culture-generating Resources

Map-making Resources

Reference

Tolkien, J.R.R. (1945.) Letter 96. The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien. First Edition, 1981. Carpenter, H. and Tolkien, C. London: George Allen & Unwin. P. 125. https://timedotcom.files.wordpress.com/2014/12/the_letters_of_j.rrtolkien.pdf.

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10minutes by Malyn Mawby

UPDATE: Due to Twitter’s buying and shutting down of Posterous, Malyn’s 10minutes sketchbook blog has been moved to WordPress, The Sketchbook Project 2012 – 10 minutes. Please visit the new site, enjoy Malyn’s sketchbook and sign her guestbook.

I am excited to present my first featured site, 10minutes, created by Malyn Mawby of Sydney, Australia. This post also features my first interview, which I conducted with Malyn about her site.

10minutes is a mini- or finite blog, having approximately twenty entries, but it is the context of these entries that makes it unique. The real work is the sketchbook the blog complements, documents and interplays with.

This sketchbook is the personal artwork and journey of Malyn as she explores her creative and playful side, and “endeavours to become a less frustrated artist”. The stories of Malyn’s sketches and journey are told in her blog.

The following video showcases her sketchbook. I think you will concur from this video that Malyn’s artistry and creativity are spectacular. Her blog showcases this work, Malyn’s thoughts and the meanings her sketches have to her in even more detail and with more love.

 

I had the honour of interviewing Malyn about her Sketchbook Project and this is what she had to say.

SU: How did it feel to put yourself “out there” for the world to see? Would you do it again?

MM: I was comfortable putting myself out there because I didn’t think it was particularly personal. Besides, I was always upfront that I wasn’t a true-blue artist; on the contrary, I was working on getting better. The blog auto-posted to twitter so I got feedback on both channels. The feedback was worth the putting myself ‘out there’ so-to-speak.

“I would definitely do it again. My youngest daughter (10 y.o.) voiced that she would join me, too. This is quite telling in itself, i.e. the effort I put in was well worth the results in more ways than one. She did clarify that she didn’t have to blog about it. 🙂

SU: Were there any surprises that you encountered during and after your project?

MM: Yes! I didn’t think that many of the entries would be inspired by my Twitter friends, most of whom I haven’t met in real life. Strangely enough, too, the realisation that ‘time is not my cage’ came as a surprise even though I suspected this to be true even before embarking on this project. Obviously, this played in my mind and influenced my choice of theme.

SU: You mentioned in your Prince and Picasso reflection that you realized Picasso’s work, and the work of all people who create things, is an autobiography. How did your sketchbook project capture your autobiography?

MM: It captured the people who moved or inspired me at the time. It hopefully showed the things that inspire me. It even captured an epiphany. That’s pretty awesome for something that only took 2 months.

SU: Okay, I would like to ask you an artist to artist question now. Do you feel that your sketchbook project captured story both in of itself and transcending to your life and the world around you? Did you see this story in your mind before you began each sketch or did it develop as you sketched?

MM: I didn’t expect this project to touch as many lives as it did. I should add that as a surprise, shouldn’t I? I think most artists only have a rough idea to begin with and then let loose, as part of the creative process. I did not know going into the process that Picasso would move me so, or that I was even going to a Picasso exhibition – that was such an impulsive thing we did as a family. I loved the idea of seeing inspiration everywhere and trying to capture a bit of that. I think I even ‘searched’ for inspiration and that’s a good thing!

SU: What advice and recommendations do you have for others – artists, professionals, learners, practitioners – who wish to journal their own journeys of activity?

MM: Inspiration is everywhere. Sometimes they come easily and sometimes we have to search. It’s so human to try to capture a bit of that somehow, through words, pictures, music, whatever. In this sense, we are all artists BUT not all of us make time to unleash the artist within. My advice then is this – time is not your cage – let the artist in you fly!

“And this applies to me as well!!

“This post “On Creativity – How?” is relevant.

SU: What did you want to share with your sketchbook and blog? What did you want to keep? You expressed a conflict about preserving the personal facets of your sketches. Now that you have had time to absorb your sharing of your work, do you feel you betrayed this preservation or ensured it?

MM: Creating the videos and final piece – mail art – helped me let go. Reflecting back, I don’t have many original pieces at home. I often make things to give away. It was a little tougher with this one because, as mentioned, it involved so many people and became quite a personal journey. It is no surprise that I got attached to it as I would to a personal journal.

“Interesting point on feeling betrayed. I think I would feel less true to myself – and thus feel betrayed – if I didn’t submit the sketchbook. Does that make sense? I was always going to let it go. I just didn’t realise it would be as hard as it was.

“In all authentic connections with people, we show a bit of ourselves; authentic connections are personal. I am negotiating the blurry line of what’s really personal and not to be shared BUT that is a different learning journey again. You can get a hint of that in this post, “Of hopes and dreams“.

For more of our interview, please visit my full Malyn Mawby interview document. And please also visit 10minutes. You will be spellbound.

 

While you are visiting 10minutes, sign Malyn’s guest book and let her know what you think. All comments there, here and on the interview are welcome.

Read my previous posts on Malyn’s Sketchbook Project.

UPDATE: Due to Twitter’s buying and shutting down of Posterous, Malyn’s 10minutes sketchbook blog has been moved to WordPress, The Sketchbook Project 2012 – 10 minutes. Please visit the new site, enjoy Malyn’s sketchbook and sign her guestbook.

Moving the Quill

UPDATE: Due to Twitter’s buying and shutting down of Posterous, Malyn’s 10minutes sketchbook blog has been moved to WordPress, The Sketchbook Project 2012 – 10 minutes. Please visit the new site, enjoy Malyn’s sketchbook and sign her guestbook.

Deep passions never die

Last night I had an incredible Twitter conversation with Malyn Mawby about her Playing in Public sketch featured in my last Digital Substitute post.

I asked her, since she is part of a sketch tour, whether she was just newly learning how to sketch or if she had started when she was younger. She proudly confessed the latter, and you can tell from the quality of her sketching.

Malyn also mentioned that she had stopped sketching for several years a little while back. For her, the Art House Co-op Sketchbook Project was an opportunity to revisit her sketching and renew her passion for artistic play.

This led to discussion of my passion for creative writing, which I also have enjoyed since childhood and also took a hiatus of several years from.

Hiatuses lead to inspiration

Of course, Malyn asked why I stopped. And I explained my heart transplant to her.

This led Malyn to draw a new sketch … about me.

And here it is. Wow!

 

 

For the colourful story behind this sketch, please read Malyn’s post about this sketch.

Camaraderie expands horizons

I developed many friendships using Twitter. I use the term PLN often, because most of my friends are teachers and most of our communication is professional. But it would undervalue my activity on Twitter and other social media, like this blog, to dismiss the camaraderie developed in my learning journey. My social and professional circles have definitely expanded since I started developing professionally online.

Resparking passion

Last month, I became the new leader of the Write Group. This role is rather daunting, since I am replacing the quill of a great leader who served for 29 years. I expect, as my new duty takes hold, I will post more to Stefras’ Bridge, particularly since I am designing a resource wiki for the Write Group.

I will also do more writing as I undertake my duties, much like Malyn is sketching more with her participation in the Art House Co-op Sketchbook Project.

Update: Instead of posting Write Group-specific posts on this blog, I created a new blog, The Write Group, which better serves the group and other writers.

So from a conversation last night, I have expanded my horizons some more and so has Malyn. Now that is social networking in action.

How about you? What is your passion? And how do you encourage yourself to expand and never lose it?