I love maps.
One of the reasons I love fantasy novels so much is because nearly all of them have some sort of map.
Whether I’m writing a fantasy novel, a historical fiction novel, a mystery/thriller or even some shoot-em-up, I always try to create some kind of map to give myself more than just my mind’s eye’s a picture of the world I’m writing, and often creating from scratch.
Here’s a map I just made recently, after hitting 25,000 words, for my latest fantasy novel, The Hirelings.
How? Well, I have something to look at. Before I wasn’t quite sure where the town was in relation to the mountain I was writing about. I knew I wanted some forests, but I didn’t know where they’d be either.
Now I have something that makes a great reference and which I can just insert right into MS Word and look at while I type, like I’m doing right now. If you’d like to read more about Fantasy Maps check out this article from last summer.
And don’t think you need to be writing a fantasy novel to do this. Here’s a simple map of 1970s Hong Kong that I found and used for Tarot Card Killer, as well as another map that I made using Google Maps to help me figure out where all the bodies would be.
I have several other examples of this, but I think you get the idea. I really think you should use Google Maps for Fiction Writing if you’re writing about places that exist now, and I’m a firm believer in making crappy MS paint maps to help you along if you’re creating your own world.
Here’s another map that I got from Wikipedia months ago when I first started working on my John Colter novel:
The point is, sometimes a simple map or picture is all you need to get going when you’re stuck.
Using Images to Write Your Novel
But how about actual buildings as well? Consider using Google Maps at a street-level view. I did this while writing Tarot Card Killer and it helped me a lot with the foot chase sequences. Here’s what I did.
First I just go to Google Maps and type in an address to get to where I want to be. For this particular scene I knew I wanted some hilly streets off of Connaught Road in Hong Kong, areas I’d been before and knew would be perfect for a chase scene. (Think of those old 70s San Francisco movies and how they used hills in the car chases).
Notice those stairs there on the left? Those are a main part of the chase sequence (read an excerpt below). At one point the shooter turns around and fires at Inspector Sharpe, who has to duck down behind those stairs for cover. When I can see it there in front of me it means I can get a few hundred extra words.
Yeah, maybe I’ll cut some of those out later, but that’s fine when I’ve got a pile of 70,000 words, as I had in the case of this novel.
Here’s what it looks like if I simply turn around and look back down that hill to where I’ve been:
Perhaps you can get a better sense of the sights and smells, the sounds even, that your characters are experiencing. All of those things can enable you to get several hundred or even several thousand more words on your work in progress (WIP).
Tomorrow we’ll discuss Using Plotting with Your Table of Contents to Write Your Novel Fast. To do that we’ll focus on Table of Contents’ (TOC’s). Should be interesting!
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Excerpt of the Tarot Card Killer Chase Scene
Of all the areas of the city that Jim could think of to be involved in a chase on foot, this was the worst. From Wyndham Street to Hollywood Road the hill rose higher and steeper, the cross-streets doing much the same. The only good thing about it, and which allowed him to actually increase his pace, was that the killer was now right up ahead of him.
It was a lone Chinese man, young by the look of him, with a sweater and a pair of slacks. He held the gun he’d killed Andy with in his right hand, glancing back nervously over his shoulder from time to time.
As soon as Jim started up the hill the man saw him with one of those glances, turned, and fired off a round. Jim ducked down and to his left as soon as he’d seen the man turn, and the bullet struck somewhere out in the street where he’d been. He raised his gun up and fired-off two shots, both of them missing as the man darted further up the street and then right onto a shop-lined avenue.
“Damn!” Jim grunted, getting up and continuing the chase.
He headed up Hollywood Road until the killer took a left and started running up Old Bailey Street, an even steeper hill. Onward he sped around the corner and started up, his lungs feeling as though they were on fire.
He looked up and could still see the shooter further up ahead, although here the foot traffic was tighter and the area busier. He picked up his speed and the killer did the same.
Suddenly the killer turned around again, firing two more shots at Jim.
“Shit!” he shouted, ducking into the doorway of the Flying Pan restaurant just in time.
He stuck his hand out, took careful aim, and then pulled his gun up – there were just too many people. He ducked out of the doorway when he saw the killer try to fire again but come up empty. He looked down at Jim and threw the gun, taking off up the hill once again.
You’re mine, you bastard! Jim thought as he sprang back out.
Old Bailey Street headed up hill for about four blocks, the one-way street full of cars coming down, the small sidewalk full of people.
“Move! Move!” Jim shouted as he rushed up the sidewalk, which was really nothing more than a few feet of flat stretches followed by a dozen stairs, the process repeating itself endlessly as he charged upward.
They ran on and up, the killer jumping through gaps in the crowd, knocking over shoppers, and dodging in and out of traffic. They headed up the street until it turned onto Elgin Street, finally getting to the furthest extent of Central.
The killer took a right fast and ran straight into three women coming out of a department store. Their bags went flying and he hit the ground. It was the chance Jim had been waiting for, and he picked up his pace.
The killer knew he was in trouble as well though, and Jim suddenly saw him pull another gun from his back waistband, causing the three women to start screaming and rush all about.
“Damn!” Jim said as he dove down to the sidewalk.
The killer fired two shots at him, and Jim narrowly managed to duck down behind some steps in the sidewalk, the only cover available. The killer tried to fire again but this gun was empty now too. Jim looked up just as the killer threw it at him, and he had to duck down just before it hit him.
“That’s the closest he’s come yet!” Jim said under his breath as he darted up and toward the killer, who was just then getting up.
They raced down Elgin and then to Caine Road where there was a pedestrian crossing with the audible tick-tick-ticking of the crossing light increasing in pace as it got closer to changing..
“Stop!” Jim yelled, raising his gun up at the killer.
The man looked back and darted forward into the traffic. The light hadn’t changed yet and a blue lorry came speeding through at the last second as he ran and tried to catch it. Jim saw the killer look up at just the last instant before the lorry’s front-end slammed into him, knocking him back a good ten feet.
Jim rushed up the street, his gun still out before him. He got up, waved away a few people coming to take a look, and stared down. The killer was wheezing his last breaths, Jim could tell, a large puddle of blood already pooling beneath his head.
“Who sent you!” Jim yelled down at him.
The man just looked up at him with dazed and unseeing eyes, but then at the last second they latched onto the man above him and he smiled.
“Who do you work for!” Jim yelled. “Are you the Tarot Card Killer!”
It was no use – the killer’s eyes fluttered for an instant and then rolled up into his head.
Jim bent down to check the man’s pulse but there was no need, he was dead.
“Shit!” Jim said, then started looking around for a phone he could use to call it all in.