First you make a map

Long ago, I had a writing teacher who explained that when faced with dilemma of plot and story, her solution was, “First, you make a map.”  I’ve returned to some version of this advice often over the years, liberally conjuring up maps of various shapes and sizes. Sometimes they are literal and hand drawn and look like treasure hunts. Other times, they come in the form of Excel spreadsheets that help me track characters, ages, important historical events. When the words fail and there’s too much detail for my brain to hold onto, these guides become essential. Today, I returned to a map I first created when I was trying to sort out the important life events in each of my characters as they aged and met:


Which of course led me to my original “map” for this novel:


And yet another timeline:


And, lo and behold, an actual map:


All proof that it’s not always the destination that matters. My first map is dated 12/18/14, three and a half years ago. Each map since has filled in the details that the words, paragraphs and scenes have left out. I still don’t know the full atlas of this book, but these maps are a comforting reminder that I’ve certainly charted quite a bit of the territory.

One Reply to “First you make a map”

  1. So interesting — I’m not a visual person and create “notes” and “maps” in my head that I guess I sort of channel when I write. I’m struggling to put together a book right now and am trying to “visualize,” so it’s helpful to read a bit of your process.


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