Tag Archives: map

The Treasure Island Map Doesn’t Skimp on the Details

Treasure Island’s Map Doesn’t Skimp on the Details

A big reason I put together my brush sets was to help my fellow authors create authentic maps to enhance a reader’s experience. (I wrote a whole post about it.) The design of a book, from chapter headers to the breaks between scenes, can all be utilized in ways to add details to a world. The map is no different.

Understanding details matter and when they’re ignored, they can often have the opposite effect. Usually, it’s helpful to see this in practice and I want to do that today. Take Robert Louis Stevenson’s map for his classic Treasure Island; it’s a masterclass in getting the details right. Check it out below, click to view it larger.

Stevenson's map of Treasure Island
Stevenson’s map of Treasure Island

If you’re writing a book on piracy, creating a nautical chart that fits its era is clearly the correct visual direction. But Stevenson goes much further pushing past style and into a faux-authenticity that enlivens the imagination. It does this by paying close attention to its details. Note the sounding markers scattered around the coast or the anchorage label in the North Inlet. Those are important for sailors, yes, but for the story? Not so much. He even goes as far as marking rocks along the shores (the little cross symbols along the coasts) and labeling the direction of the current (the arrow floating off the eastern side.) Style can get you halfway there—but details are what brings this sort of ephemera alive.

Details of Robert Louis Stevenson’s map of Treasure Island

The map does more than just clarify information; it becomes an extension of the world. It creates its place within the context of the story. The details establish its purpose within the fiction. This chart could be real which is why it’s so brilliant. One can look at this map and forget that Treasure Island isn’t an actual island. You can easily imagine that this map came from Captain Flint himself with his small details pointing out strong tides, strange landmarks, springs, swamps, and other bits and pieces. You can picture it folded away in its chest, waiting for Jim Hawkins to come along. You can visualize it in use.

This should be what we strive for with our fantasy cartography. It’s what I aim to empower. We shouldn’t settle with just the informative, we should strive for the authentic—one that enhances the overall experience and delights our readers. The details matter and they’re a treasure that’s worth it.

Robert Newton is still the best Long John Silver


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Map of the Known Territories

Map of the Known Territories

For a while now, I had had readers ask me about a map for The Bell Forging Cycle. Between The Stars Were Right and Old Broken Road, Wal covers a lot of ground. However, I didn’t want to do any old fantasy map. The Bell Forging Cycle is, well… it’s unique and it deserves a unique treatment. So, with the release date announcement for Red Litten World looming, I figured this was the perfect time to share the official map. [Spoilers Ahead: If you haven’t read Old Broken Road be warned, the following images contain spoilers.]

Picture yourself as a caravan master eager to lead your first company down the Big Ninety as soon as Lovat and Syring put away their differences and the Grovedare reopens. As a favor to you, Wal offers to tell you what he knows (for the cost of a meal, of course.) So you agree meet at a diner in the city. The place he picks is a hole in the wall named Cedric’s Eatery. It’s located in Denny Lake, a cramped warren in north-central Lovat. The diner itself is located below the street, in the entresol between Level Three and Four. You’d have never found it on your own.

Wal’s there, sitting at one of the high-backed booths as you enter. He smiles and waves you over. You both order some food from the limited menu and Wal dives into what he knows. He talks about schedules, dealing with the rowdy clients, popular waystations, and so on. So you can follow along, you’ve brought along a well-worn map you picked up from a roadside depot that covers the major trails between Lovat and Syringa. As he talks, Wal grabs a pen and begins to annotate his favor spots for food, known bandit camps, and even his recent experience on the Broken Road. The result is this:

CLICK HERE to view the full size Map of the Known Territories

Tada! An annotated Bell Forging Cycle map of the known Territories. It’s too big to really show properly in the narrow column of the blog. You’re not going to get much out of it unless you click on the image and view it larger.

What do you think? I had a lot of fun making this and I hope it helps you visualize the world a little bit more. It won’t be the last map we see, as the series progresses, I’m planning to reveal more of the world little by little. But for now, next time you’re on the trail, and if you have a hankering for the best bánh mì in the Territories you’ll know where to look.


I’ve gone ahead and made this map available as a downloadable background as well. You can click on any of the links below, or head over to the Free Stuff page and find it (and other goodies) there.

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Since phone backgrounds are a bit narrower their images focus on two separate sections of the map: Lovat and Syringa. So, for your phone you can choose your loyalty with the following backgrounds:

Mark Twain at his writing desk

Shut up and write!

I over plan. I mentioned in a previous blog post that I like to plan—and there is nothing wrong with that—but sometimes I take it to an extreme. When I wrote my first manuscript, Coal Belly, I learned a valuable lesson about my tendency to over plan.

It started with a map. After I had finished it apparently I needed to draw out the deck plans for the riverboat central to the plot. When that was finished, I had to draw a new, highly detailed map of the capital city where a section of the story took place. That obviously wasn’t detailed enough, so I needed to divide it up and name all the neighborhoods. Then I needed to draw out the various symbols of the various factions within that capital city. Next, I needed to… no…no, no, no, no, no.

NO.

I didn’t need to do half that. Eventually, I realized I was spending so much time creating busy work for myself that I was getting nothing done. I was working on collateral and not on the actual story itself. That’s a problem. Research is fine when it’s crucial, but there comes a time when it begins to get in the way. Learning to recognize when I was doing something necessary, and when I was just spinning my wheels was essential for me to get things done. I had to quit working on all the tangential stuff and focus on the work itself. The actual work. I needed to just shut up and write.

I have to remind myself about this daily. I need to separate the busy work from real work. There’s always a blog post to write, a character to outline, an article to read, a comment to compose, a map to draw, a playlist to assemble, a twitter conversation to follow, etc. The list is endless, and it can get in the way and keep you from finishing. (Rule #2) It’s different for each of us, but somewhere inside, we all know if what we are doing is needed to completing our project or if it’s just a distraction.

Whenever you catch yourself doing something that isn’t what you want to be working on, do a double check. Decide if it’s really worth your time or if you should just sit down, shut up, and write.