Plotting the Map, Mapping the Plot

Posted: June 18th, 2010 under artwork, Kings of the North, the writing life.
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Someday, maybe even tomorrow, there’ll be another picture of the map progress.   It won’t look like much, but that’s because today I erased about a quarter of it.  Luckily for me (and you, in the long run) what needed erasing wasn’t inked yet.  Now it is.

The saga of the past couple of weeks has been one of recurrent frustration.  First there was the discovery that the partly drawn master map was even more “partly” than I remembered,  and then the frantic search for the missing detail map, and then the frantic attempt to get the detail map in the computer to print at the same scale as the master map, and then the rediscovery of the detail map.  WHEW.

Then the attempt to flatten the detail map (curlier than the main map) and position it under the master map very precisely, which didn’t quite work.  Not on both ends.  You pick your battles; I picked the best fitting spot and started tracing in what I needed.    Then I had to decide on where things were in areas I’d never written Story in (Pargun away from the Honnorgat and away from the border of Tsaia,  for instance, also Kostandan, Dzordanya, and Prealíth, ) and start penciling that in.  Tributaries of the Honnorgat, where (mumble-mumble) is, etc.

Then I had to get the pens in shape.   The old Rapidograph pens.  The old Rapidograph pens I had not (ahem!) cleaned out after last year’s map work.  Ahem indeed.   I got what I deserved, which was solid blocks of dried ink inside tiny little spaces where ink must flow or the pen doesn’t work.  It took days of hands-on, fiddly work to get them going again (because, until I finally looked online, I didn’t know they could be disassembled any farther than the way my mother did it–the woman who never, ever left her pens or her paintbrushes in a sticky mess, so she didn’t need to take them that far apart.)

I found this site very helpful, should you ever have that problem–and yeah, having the water hot helps.   Once you’ve got the worst crusty bits out of the very tiny fine threads of the inner parts of the nib (for which an old toothbrush is helpful),  plain old dish detergent and hot water, alternating soaking and shaking and brushing anything with a thread until not one more little ooze of aged ink comes out in the soaking water, will restore function.

So then I got the working #2 Rapidograph thoroughly clean and loaded up with ink, and started inking what I was sure of.   There are lots and lots and lots of mountains to be sketched and shaded.    I  will be spending days just on mountains, by the end of this thing.

But I was still not happy with the west end of the Honnorgat.    Something Was Wrong.  I couldn’t really define it, except it “didn’t look right.”   In reconstructing the original master map, henceforth OMM,  I had to use enlarged versions of the maps in Surrender None and Sheepfarmer’s Daughter…maps not originally printed in the same scale, and (lacking the original master map) quite likely not scanned into the computer at the ideal sizes or printed out on my printer in anything like matching scale.   Moreover, they didn’t overlap, or even touch at the edge.  I tried, of course, but 20 years–too many for measurements to be accurate in map scale–were in between now and the last time I saw the OMM.

The OMM will no doubt surface after this one’s all done, and not match!!   I will protect you from the horror by now sharing it with you.

I had gone on and penciled onto the new master map (NMM)  the line of the Honnorgat and its tributaries, but hadn’t inked them because of this “not right” look.  Today was the day for figuring out what was wrong and how to fix it.    I had given up on finding the OMM,  and was more concerned with how to make it look reasonable to me.   I stared through the top layer of vellum to the printout of the Surrender None map.   Then I untaped the top layer (partly) and untaped that detail map from the next layer down and slid a hand under to move it around.  Here?  No.  There?  No.  It needed to shorten the distance from A to B about that much.  Where could I excise a section of the river?  I slide the under-map around.   And then the lightbulb flashed.  It needed not only a horizontal move but a rotation.

As I did that, I remembered why it was the way it was (sound geology, but not the only sound geology) and found a position where it looked right and taped it down.    And if that was right, then the mountain chain needed to rotate to compensate.   Now the other detail map underneath was out of position.  I wiggled that one around.  Then taped down the whole.   Then erased all the former Honnorgat-and-tributaries from the west end,  annoyed with myself for not picking up a drafting brush while I was in the city (blowing eraser crumbs off  is not as good practice.  At least I have a proper non-tooth-raising eraser.

Then I redrew the Honnorgat and its tributaries in pencil, and then inked them, and then drew and  shaded some more mountains.

And then, finally, I could consider the southwest part of the map, which hasn’t entered the story before, and won’t enter it until (if then) later in Book III.   I think in the OMM, this was labeled “western waste” or something like that and left blank.  Well, it’s not blank now.  It’s part of a continent and there’s always Stuff on a continent even if it’s not heavily populated by anyone.  Anyone human, at least.

Because the old drafting table (over 60 years old;   I remember my mother working at it when I was three and four and five…)  is both old (and thus not adjustable) and not the right height for me, and inking all those mountains and drawing trails is fiddly,  I’m having to take frequent breaks, but it’s coming along.

And in the breaks, the Story itself is moving along, with some surprises for me and some of what I hope will be exciting bits for you.   Book III is definitely a hinge.  I’ve been spending time with Stammel and Arvid, two of my favorite non-major characters, as well as Dorrin, Arcolin, and Kieri.  I’ve had several 2000+ word days and more in the 1500 range.

If no further problems crop up in the next week, I should finish the map and get the files off to Production, and then roll fast on the story until the proofs of Kings come back, when I’ll have to deal with those.

So…you may have thought I was lounging out by the lily pond with a tall cool one, but actually I’ve been working and not getting enough sleep.   (And now, back to do a bit more on the map tonight. )


  • Comment by Robert Conley — June 18, 2010 @ 9:08 pm



    Yup sounds familiar when I did my maps before I started using my computer to draw with. I know exactly what you are going through. The result looks like it will be worth it.

    The only suggestion I have for stuff like this is try to scan in everything and try the rotating and stitching together using a drawing program.

    This is not the same as drawing a map. You just take a bunch of scanned images, resizing and rotating until they are right. Then take it to a copy place and have it print it out poster size. (however big you want it). Then put your vellum over that.

  • Comment by Kip Colegrove — June 19, 2010 @ 3:50 pm


    Would that I still had my beloved set of Rapidograph pens to care for. They had clear plastic reservoirs surrounding the base of the pin-and-tube assemblt. Red Higgins drawing ink looked marvellous; seemed to glow with its own inner light.

    As one who was into mechanical drawing and marksmanship at the same time, I can affirm that with technical pens as with small arms, field stripping is one thing; complete disassembly is another.

    I do still have my drafting brush somewhere. I think. Nice to own stuff that is Made To Last.

    And thanks for calling Stammel and Arvid non-major rather than minor characters. Fits the feel of them.

  • Comment by elizabeth — June 19, 2010 @ 4:22 pm


    Kip: While working on the pens, I was thinking how like cleaning a firearm it was, and wondering why–as I always clean them immediately after use–I’m not more careful with my pens. Finally decided it was the waste of ink that did it: I clean pens when I use up all the ink in the reservoir, rather than after each use. (Easier to remove magazine from firearm than ink from pen.) So, said my inner critic, which is harder–earning the money for another bottle of ink, or spending hours cleaning pens?

    Ian: Glad you enjoyed it. I’m surprised and honored that someone named their son Saben…and it’s a special delight that it was he who let you know about the new books. The map for Kings of the North is coming along (though I’m getting tired of shading all those mountains.)

    Robert: I haven’t been that successful with merging image files as you suggest. Sounds a great idea, though.

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