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Historical Romance Writers Dishing the Dirt on Research

16 September 2011

Maps, Glorious Maps


Okay, I admit it: I get confused easily in strange places and historical places are the worst for befuddling me. Some people can figure out what’s where from a list of directions (turn left here, take two steps forward, slide sideways, etc.) but not yours truly.

I need the visuals. Give me a map. Big, bold and preferably in color. A few angels and dragons don’t hurt, either.

I love Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings – but the map describing the Fellowship’s quest thrills me to the bone.

Libraries of maps are wonderful places. The Beau Monde website offers many maps of London, which allow me to plot a walking tour through centuries-old streets.

The United States Geological Service (USGS) has been mapping the United States for the past 125 years. It’s now making all of those glorious maps available online. (Yes!) They can be searched by state and location, plus date.

Studying a map can tell so much. Battlefield maps talk about the land’s shape (e.g., mountains, valleys, rivers, etc.) and people’s movements at different moments. Both Waterloo and Gettysburg look very big and exciting through their maps. Yet it’s still possible to see the difference Gettysburg’s mountains made, as compared to Waterloo’s wheat fields. I needed a map to figure out how my hero escaped from Napoleon’s France in "Caught by the Tides," my Regency novella.

Of course, then there are the author questions to answer, like where on earth should the hero and heroine live. Looking at maps of cities can help figure that out. For example, ancient Rome looks totally different from pre-Civil War Texas. Figuring out how settlement boundaries fluctuated over time gave me fits when I was writing my Texas vampire books! Maps were a godsend.

Some books raise even more specific questions, like how to move characters through backrooms. Marie Antoinette’s Versailles had many more rooms for shuffling underlings through, while Queen Victoria’s Buckingham Palace had fewer, bigger rooms for entertaining. But compare both of those to China’s Forbidden City with its 9,999 rooms in one massive complex? Well, the options there were infinite!

Reader, have you ever enjoyed a map in a book? Authors, has a map ever helped you write a book?

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6 Comments:

Blogger Isobel Carr said...

I use maps all the time. I own both the Regency and Georgian A-Z as well as maps of Regency-era Bath and a whole book of Regency-era maps of various English cities. My most recent release, RIPE FOR SCANDAL, required a lot of map time, as it’s partially a road story and characters were dashing hither and yon throughout most of it.

12:12 PM  
Blogger Diane Whiteside said...

Isobel - You've got a whole book of Regency-era maps? You lucky, lucky girl!

RIPE FOR SCANDAL must have been great fun to write. Nothing like delving into maps to uncover new factoids.

6:28 PM  
Blogger Elena Greene said...

I love maps and the A-Z of London is very useful. I found the floor map of the Brighton Pavilion very helpful in one story. For another book, I drew a map of my fictitious village so I wouldn't mess up when my characters moved around and through it. Visuals help!

8:00 AM  
Blogger Diane Whiteside said...

Elena - Oh yes, visuals of fictional places are just as useful as real-life places! I made a map of my fictional riverboat just to know where everybody ate and slept.

12:58 PM  
Blogger Charity Girl said...

I've used floor plans of regency townhouses - just knowing what floor the drawing room would be on and the bedroom, is really useful.

Slightly unrelated but ever since I saw the map room in the Doge's Palace in Venice I have wanted a map room in my fantasy house. Two huge globes and maps on every wall. Fantastic:

http://www.museumplanet.com/tour.php/venice/dp/44

6:18 AM  
Blogger Tracy Grant said...

I love maps! I too constantly refer to the A to Z of Regency London (I sometimes think I understand the geography of Regency London better than present-day San Francisco). I was thrilled to find a map of early 19th century Brussels for my just completed Waterloo book.

11:52 PM  

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