Writing Tips: Make Maps (Interior)

2 Apr

Website Update: April 3rd: I switched some posts around; sorry for the inconvenience if you were waiting for the publishing tips on April 4th. It will now be on April 6th.

So this is my 100th post, and there’s 29 days until the Minutes Before Sunset release. (Obviously, numbers excite me.) And I’m celebrating by posting two writing tips in a row :] Hope you enjoy!

Click here to join my Facebook Author Page! Your support brightens my day every day.

Click here to join my Facebook Author Page! Your support brightens my day every day.

The believability of your novel is going to reside on many factors: characters, plot, language, etc. But these are the obvious reasons, and many writers forget that the smallest details can also make or break your credibility. I’ve talked about this before in Writing Tips: Keeping Track of Time on March 11th. I described the importance of tracking every minute, day, month, and even moon cycles of your novel, and now I wanted to discuss the physical world you also need to track.

When I write a story, I always draw maps–both of the exterior and interior of places within the story. I even draw a much larger map, showing how the story moves. But that’s for another post. Today, I’m strictly clarifying the importance of a floor plan. Where’s the living room, kitchen, and bedroom? How are these places laid out? Where do your characters stand? What would they be near? These questions are important, because you can easily contradict yourself from scene to scene.

For example: In chapter one, you may describe Person A walking through the living room to get to the kitchen. THEN–ten chapters later–you write about Person A (or someone completely different) coming out of the kitchen into a hallway that leads to the front door next to the living room.

These little mistakes, even if the reader isn’t consciously aware of it, can upset the flow and take them out of the story. In other words, they may feel as if something isn’t quite right.

We can avoid this with detailed maps. (Even if you base your places on real-life, because you’re bound to change something.)

I really recommend drawing the map before you write a significant amount of your story. In my opinion, you can wait until that room appears in the book, describe it naturally, but then take note on EVERYTHING you said. That way, when you come back to the scene, everything is in place.

Another way to record it, however, is to physical draw or use realtor websites that allow you to create a room digitally.

I really like RoomSketcher, because you can morph the walls, stack floors, and even add furniture. I wasn’t able to use this while making November Snow in 2007, but I did make two with this website for an example:


Northern Flock Home

The first drawing is of the first floor of the Northern Flock’s home. If you’ve read November Snow, you know many of the scenes take place here, so making sure my characters’ movements were flawless was very important. On the left, you’ll even see the lamp by the stairs, because it (and I don’t want to spoil anything) becomes very important at some point in the novel. This is just another reason to guarantee that I knew where it was. Other furniture that I used was a couch, desk, T.V., dining room table, and everything in the kitchen–the fridge, oven, and sink. The doorways are also very important, because it shows how the characters could leave and enter while also reminding me what would be in front, behind, to the right, and left of them as they did so.

As a comparison, I also created Calhoun’s house.

Calhoun's house

Calhoun’s house

I did this to show how RoomSketcher can allow you to create your own floor with walls, carpet, windows, and stairways. It’s very easy to use, and there’s even different kinds of furniture you can choose from. (Notice Daniel’s room–the blue one–has a different colored bed than Calhoun’s.)

I’ve had these maps drawn since I began writing, and it allowed me to be confident that my book could correlate with such pictures. I have no doubts that, if you read November Snow today, you could follow my maps along with the characters.

I have to admit that some rooms, homes, or even streets are very clear to me, and I very rarely have to go back to my notes. However, when writing the smaller scenes, the ones that I probably do struggle with, I often go back during revisions and use a pencil to trace the movements. This may seem tedious, but I feel as if it is necessary, and I have found mistakes before.

Plus, it’s fun to take a break from writing and editing to create something else. And you can share it as an extra with your readers & fans! I know I’ll keep spending more time on this website. I love how easy it is to manipulate the walls, the furniture, and recreate something without losing what I’ve already made. (I’m a pen addict, so that’s really hard to do when I draw on paper.)

I suggest you guys try it out too! And if you don’t like RoomSketcher, I remain loyal to the dedication of drawing a physical map. In the future, I will expand on how to draw an exterior map and/or trace the movements of characters in specific scenes along with overtime in general.

Good luck & have fun! (I also have Interior Maps for “Minutes Before Sunset” coming April 4.


UPDATED: April 4: Movie Mention: The Host

April 6: Publishing Tips: Introduce Extras.  

40 Responses to “Writing Tips: Make Maps (Interior)”

  1. A2LSM April 2, 2013 at 12:05 am #

    What a great idea about making a map! I have all these places in my head, but having a map will make it jump even more into life. Thanks for giving us the website. I’m gonna have to check it out some time soon. Thank you 🙂

    • Shannon Thompson April 4, 2013 at 5:15 pm #

      You’re welcome! I hope you enjoy using it as much as I do.

  2. sarahcradit April 2, 2013 at 12:08 am #

    Excellent post! I agree completely- scenery is the easiest way to make consistency errors in your writing. My stories are heavily scenery-driven and involve several important homes, and I had to map them out as well to avoid problems. Unfortunately, though, I never even thought of using a program to do it and did it all by hand. I will definitely be checking out Room Sketcher!

    • Shannon Thompson April 4, 2013 at 5:16 pm #

      I hadn’t either until I came across RoomSketcher via StumbleUpon. I’m glad I did. I’ve definitely converted.

  3. barbarastanley April 2, 2013 at 12:25 am #

    This is excellent advice. It is too easy to make a mistake.

  4. Crissi Langwell April 2, 2013 at 1:04 am #

    I love this idea! I’m definitely using it. Thanks for the tip!

  5. jaystew2 April 2, 2013 at 1:36 am #

    Awesome advice! Scouring through previous chapters to remember if your character’s bedroom is the second door on the left or the right can be beyond frustrating!

    • Shannon Thompson April 4, 2013 at 5:17 pm #

      Yes! It’s a tedious task, but well worth it, because going back is more tedious and time consuming.

  6. Tim Diggles April 2, 2013 at 5:11 am #

    I set up a form of diary on Excel with each character having a column so I know where they are. I am writing a novel as if someones autobiography which starts in 1948, as his father was born in 1902 I have set up a very long ‘diary’ making sure I have the age of the character correct. I have already made an error getting The Beatles ‘Revolver’ album made the wrong year. For The Report I had to make one minute by minute as the whole story only covers 4 days! These are useful tips Shannon and stop getting you lost and especially minor characters forgotten about half way through!

    • Shannon Thompson April 4, 2013 at 5:21 pm #

      That’s all great stuff! Thanks for the addition and personal experience on organization within writing.

  7. theparasiteguy April 2, 2013 at 6:45 am #

    It’s never even occurred to me to try something like this. Thank you very much for the tip: I can imagine this being very helpful further down the line.

    • Shannon Thompson April 4, 2013 at 5:21 pm #

      You’re welcome! It definitely becomes a lifesaver later on during other chapters let alone the editing process (especially if you have an outside editor and/or take time between writing and editing)

  8. rebeccacbond April 2, 2013 at 6:55 am #

    Hi, I really enjoy reading your blog, so I’ve nominated you for t’ve nominated you for the Very Inspirational Blogger Award.

  9. Charles Yallowitz April 2, 2013 at 7:05 am #

    Great advice and a very helpful tool. I drew maps for my fantasy world to make sure I knew where all the cities and areas were in relation to each other. It comes in very helpful when characters are traveling or discussing rumors from other regions.

    • Shannon Thompson April 4, 2013 at 5:22 pm #

      Yes! I love it. I do the same, which I will get into later when I discuss exterior maps.

  10. WyndyDee April 2, 2013 at 10:01 am #

    Reblogged this on Wyndy Dee.

  11. Constant Geographer April 2, 2013 at 10:57 am #

    Shannon, thanks for providing your detailed discussion of map use in writing. Being a geographer and bibliophile I really appreciate when authors disclose their methods. Geography is crucial in story-telling, from crossing a room, to crossing a continent. That you use software is interesting. Some authors simply sketch on scratch paper – which sort of explains why story details seem vague oftentimes. I can see where using floorplans available in magazines might come in handy, except I can see where someone might get caught up in describing the furnishings and forget about the plot. Thanks for sharing!

    • Shannon Thompson April 4, 2013 at 5:25 pm #

      Yes. There is a careful balance when describing a scene. I use this rule:
      1. Make sure it’s grounded in your mind
      2. Let it be open in the reader’s.
      Basically, describe basics (at least the first time you’re there) but don’t dwell on every little detail.

  12. barbarianwriter April 2, 2013 at 11:34 am #

    I anxiously await to see if there may be a program to help make maps of lands, kingdoms, or even continents. Especially if it also helps with the terrain. Thanks for this post; I shall try to keep it in mind if ever I have an integral scene inside.

    • jameskresnik April 4, 2013 at 8:42 am #

      I’m with you on that one.

      It would also be nice to have software that intuitive and can import existing geography from online maps.

      I’m a storyteller, not a mapmaker.

    • Shannon Thompson April 4, 2013 at 5:25 pm #

      I will try to find one that’s free and easy to use!

  13. L. Marie April 2, 2013 at 12:32 pm #

    Thanks for your great advice and for mentioning Room Sketcher. I’ll try that! I also make my own maps (interior and exterior) to help orient myself as a write. When I have a character turn left and enter a room, I want to make sure that makes sense.

  14. Jill - Barefoot Editing April 2, 2013 at 4:10 pm #

    This is a fabulous idea! Using a mapping system like this would also help if you are writing a series of books so you can keep the facts straight from book to book.

  15. lwpatricks April 2, 2013 at 4:30 pm #

    Hey, congrats on the new book! And I love the concept of creating maps for settings. Sometimes I get confused myself when writing and have to reference existing maps just to have some sort of rough idea where the characters are and where they’re going. Cheers!

  16. W E Patterson April 2, 2013 at 7:36 pm #

    Excellent and very good advice. I have never thought to do this.

  17. Musings on the writing life April 3, 2013 at 3:21 am #

    fantastic idea! I have pictures in my mind, but this will ensure I don’t make any mistakes 🙂
    Will check it out immediately!

  18. stevewillshaw April 3, 2013 at 12:55 pm #

    Nice ideas here that teachers could use to encourage more interesting writing by their students. Thanks.

  19. My Rite of Passage April 3, 2013 at 8:33 pm #

    A great post – thanks; I’ve bookmarked RoomSketcher.

  20. waywithwords4 April 4, 2013 at 10:38 pm #

    Thanks for the awesome idea! I make flow charts, family trees, and calenders for my characters, but I’ve never considered drawing a map of a setting. I generally have a few pieces on the go at once so this will be so helpful to keep track of which room is which

  21. David Stringer April 15, 2013 at 3:55 am #

    Interesting idea. I tend to use photos to give myself an idea of dimensions, but I like your suggestion.

  22. Rebekah Brown April 16, 2013 at 9:18 am #

    This is very interesting, and I have found myself thinking about it a lot lately. I think it is possible to mix historical fiction and fantasy and get something completely new–by creating a world based off of the medieval era, for example, but inventing whole new lands, and then not making it in any way magical or supernatural.


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