Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Maps in a Novel: An Improvement or a Curse?

How would you navigate Tolkien’s Middle Earth without a map in the index? Could you imagine George R.R. Martin’s saga minus detailed charts of Westeros? But when is a map useful in a book and when is it a crutch for the author?

I’m a big fan of maps in books, although I’ll admit it works better in certain genres than others, i.e. Fantasy versus Literary fiction. However, I’ve found that I prefer not to use maps in my own stories as I often find it a symptom of an overly complicated plot. For instance, because the plot of Mists of Avalon is so well told, I don’t need a map to understand the differences between Camelot and Tintagel, whereas I’ve found the galactic maps in Star Wars fiction baffling to the point that I don’t even use them.

What do you think about using maps in a novel? When is it a good idea, and when is it a sign that the storyline can’t stand on its own? How do you approach the use of maps in your work writing?