Friday, July 2, 2010

A sense of space

A few months ago, I posted about the importance to me of names, of knowing who my characters are before I can write about them. Today I'm writing about the importance of having a sense of the space they inhabit.

I'm a very visual person, and an inveterate mapper and planner. I can't write for long about a country, a town, a planet, a building, a ship, anything really, without getting a picture in my mind of how it looks, and then getting something down on paper.

I said I'm a visual person, but that doesn't mean my visualisation is clear or consistent. When I first envisage a scene, scale and spatial relationships tend to be rather ambiguous. Like in a dream, rooms have a habit of growing and shrinking, of morphing from moment to moment. Furniture wanders around like a herd of grazing wildebeest. Not a sturdy platform for planning out a fight scene, for example. So I have to nail down the errant walls and joinery with pen and paper, then I can get on with the job of writing.

My working notes are littered with sketches and more detailed plans and maps.

I'm a big picture person too. It's not enough for me to know the layout of a room, for example. I need to know its context. What's next door? What aspect does it look out onto? And I'm way more comfortable working from the big picture inwards, so that the context eventually shapes the room in a meaningful way. This means I often start with a map of a whole planet, major landmasses and seas, then smaller scale maps of areas that are important to the story, homing in on specific settlements and even buildings.

Many of these, of course, are mostly blank space. I only flesh out enough to make me comfortable that I can speak to them when the time comes. And most of the details will never be referenced in the story. But they will leave their mark.

A few of my plans are more detailed, though. These are the major settings for the story, and consistency is important. You can't have the captain's cabin next door to the mess hall in one scene, the sick bay in another, and the bridge in another. Some details may be driven by the needs of the plot, but mostly I plan things out first and then see how the action plays out within those constraints.

Here are a couple of examples of ships that Shayla spends time aboard. The first is the Implacable class cruiser Merciless, from Ghosts of Innocence.

The second is the fast torpedo frigate Vixen, from The Ashes of Home. In both cases, Shayla is a prisoner on board. I wonder what that says about her?


  1. :o wow! That's a lot of detail. Kudos to you, Ian, for being so exact. These ships are pretty neat. I can see now how you can build a pirate ship in your yard. You are definatly an analyzer. Even your art makes sense to me now. Nicely done.

  2. Thanks Stella,

    Have you ever heard of the Clifton Strengthsfinder? It's a tool developed by Gallup (the ones who do the opinion polls) that ranks a whole bunch of qualities to identify which ones are "signature themes" for a person.

    Right up there in my top themes are "analytical". You got that spot on. Also in there are "strategic" and "futuristic". Go figure :D

  3. I need to draw more building maps. *sigh* Note to self: Don't read other people's blogs! It reminds you of what you need to do!

    I need to do a map of the Rosentia Manors (on Rosentia Island and Port Vedic), the Rosentia Apartments, the Rosentia Palace (in the Capital), the Civic Palace in the Capital, and a town map of the Capital itself wouldn't go astray. Oh yeah, I also need a map of the little village in Rosentia.

  4. So, Shannon, I guess the question is: do you need to draw those maps, or do you just feel like you ought to?

    If you are comfortable in your writing without them then what's the problem? I happen to do this because (a) it's the way I think, so I really do need them, and (b) I enjoy it :-)

    Now, I really could do with some of those detailed character sheets that so many people rave about...


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