Today I’m excited to share with you 6 questions with fantasy cartographer James Hunter-Shortland! Thanks for sharing with us, James!

Would you please describe what a fantasy cartographer is for people who might not know? Who needs this?
A fantasy cartographer is essentially an artist who makes maps of fictional places or time periods. We’re not to be confused with “proper” cartographers, who create maps of Earth using techniques such as GIS (geographical information systems) – they train for a long time and their work is more of a science than an art (though they might disagree). Fantasy cartographers are mainly semi-professional and self-trained. As far as I know, there are no courses or qualifications you can go out and get if you want to create fantasy maps.

The main communities who need fantasy maps are fantasy authors and RPG companies/creators. Sometimes video game developers will have a need for a fantasy map for their game (think Elder Scrolls, Witcher 3, Dragon Age) but most have in-house art teams who will design those. Recently, another cartographer was commissioned to design a tie-in map for the movie After Earth. I was even contacted by an individual who needed “old map” sets of slides for a corporate presentation. So there are lots of possibilities and you never know where the next request is going to come from.

How did you get started doing fantasy cartography? and Why?
I pretty much stumbled into fantasy cartography out of necessity. I was about twelve when I started writing a fantasy novel and realized I wanted a map to go with it. I had grown up with great stories like The Hobbit, LOTR and a series called Redwall, all of which featured these beautiful old style maps inside. I started out imitating my favorite maps, with nothing more at my disposal than a piece of paper and a pencil. Over the years I started to experiment with graphics software. My earliest experience of Photoshop and GIMP was taking movie posters, applying various effects to them and changing the layout. Eventually, I realised that if I could import my maps into PS/GIMP, maybe I could get a better final result than I could achieve by hand.

I don’t remember when or how, but at some point I came across the Cartographer’s Guild, which is a fantastic online community of fantasy cartographers. There are so many great tutorials on there for all kinds of styles of maps. I started tearing through those tutorials to see what kind of maps I could make. Up until a couple of years ago, I was only making maps for my personal writing projects. It’s only recently that I started to make maps on commission.

What’s the easiest part? What’s the hardest part?
That’s a tricky one! I’d say the easiest part of making a map is working out where everything goes and how it all fits together. For example, mountains are like the backbone of a continent and everything else flows down out of them. Rivers are at the mercy of gravity, so they always take the least difficult path, which is usually downhill and around obstacles, not through them. Forests grow around rivers and lakes and so on. Once you get all the rules straight in your head, it becomes easier to know how everything needs to be set out.

The hardest parts, at least for me, are labeling (place names) and anything that requires me to draw anything more than mountain and tree markers! Firstly, map labels are time consuming as there are usually a lot of them. And drawing – I’m a horrible “traditional” artist. While some fantasy cartographers are also great at painting or drawing, I really focus on using digital applications to achieve all my effects. That isn’t to say I don’t do any manual drawing when I design a map. I do own a graphics tablet which I use to draw in landmasses, create geographic markers and to shade/add in fine details.

What’s the most fun project you’ve worked on recently?
Projects are always a heady mixture of self-doubt, fun and perseverance. There are elements of certain projects I have enjoyed hugely and there are others that I have hated with a passion. There are two projects that come to mind where I really had a fun time.

First was my entry to the One Page Dungeon contest (this year was judged by Ernie Gygax, the son of the late Gary Gygax), “In the Vault of the Howling Palace”. I made this weathered paper type thing that was designed to be a page from the journal of a master thief. Needless to say, I didn’t win in any category, but I really enjoyed designing that page.

Second was a map called Tar Ebon which I made on commission for author Dayne Edmondson. He had this huge write-up for his world that he emailed to me, which I really enjoyed reading and helped me shape his map. I just really love the colors and the feel of that map – it’s a world that I would really love to explore.

How can people contact you if they want to know more?
For more, you can visit my website, The Fantasy Cartographer, or head over to my deviantArt page. I also recently launched my Facebook page so I’d really appreciate some Likes!

What are you currently reading? (Or what’s the last book you read?)
I’m currently reading The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch and really enjoying it. I also devour non-fiction history books – if there’s a castle or a Roman, I’m sold!

Thanks so much, James!

This post is part of my ABC’s of Writing Well series. We’re skipping O for now and heading directly to P because Point of View is on my mind and I want to talk about it! Ha!

Point of view, when it’s targeted correctly, when the author is truly immersed in the voice and character on the page, can create vivid, emotional pictures like this:

The Quorum chamber is low ceilinged and windowless, like a tomb. Candles flicker from sconces set in dusty mortar between gray stones. A squat oak table fills the center, surrounded by red cushions. The air is thick with unyielding silence, and I feel as though the ghosts of weighty decisions and secret councils press in around me, telling me to hush.

Rae Carson, in The Crown of Embers, pulls on her main character’s skin to conjure up this slice of perspective on a room in the palace. The room feels oppressive, suffocating, not because it actually IS that way, but because of the perspective and the emotional baggage that the main character carries with her when she crosses the threshold. You can feel her dread and at the same time her need to prove herself, to break free of those who want to use her insecurity to control her.

You’ll notice that Carson is writing in first person, a popular method of storytelling in YA fantasy and dystopia these days. First person perspective highlights the advantages of effective point of view in narrative. Using a first person perspective limits your options. You really can’t slip into a minor character’s perspective or cheat and give the reader details that your main character would never know, wouldn’t care about, or wouldn’t notice. You ARE your main character. You see what she sees. You tell us what she feels in the moment, and the effect is that the reader is drawn deeply into the scene and into a relationship with the main character.

The thing that’s REALLY hard to wrap your head around is that, in order to truly find your story’s voice, you have to do those things no matter which POV you choose. Even in third person you can (and should) put on your character’s skin and dip into her emotions, using her past and present experiences to illuminate the scene before you. That is what makes inspired writing.

And now for the obligatory example from the pages of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix:

Harry dropped his gaze to the chair in the center of the room, the arms of which were covered in chains. He had seen those chains spring to life and bind whoever sat between them. His footsteps echoed loudly as he walked across the stone floor. When he sat gingerly on the edge of the chair the chains clinked rather threateningly but did not bind him. Feeling rather sick he looked up at the people seated at the bench above.

J.K. Rowling taps into Harry’s memories and emotions to paint a picture of the witness stand in the Wizengamot that chills the bravest, most defiant spirit. You can feel Harry’s anxiety, his powerlessness in the moment. He is at the mercy of people and powers that are at best disinterested, and at worst invested in his destruction. She doesn’t have to tell us these things for us to figure them out. We read it in what Harry notices, what he remembers, and how he reacts to his environment and to the other characters in the scene.

The third person POV advantage is that you can occasionally slip into other characters’ heads and write from their perspective as well. But you have to be choosy. Really examine why you need that character’s perspective to paint your picture. If you can’t come up with a compelling reason for using a character’s perspective, stick to your main character. Otherwise you risk diluting the narrative and losing your reader in the process.

If you’re having trouble with this, if you find that you keep straying from your main character’s point of view into other character’s heads, maybe it’s time to re-evaluate the story, up the stakes to refocus your narrative and your main character’s goals, or decide if your main character is really your main character. It’s possible that the story belongs to someone you thought was in the background. Stranger things have happened.

Today I have a guest post on the DIY MFA community blog. Hop on over and check out my article “Why Hire a Freelance Editor?” Then leave me a message in the comments!

DIY MFA (Do It Yourself Masters of Fine Arts) is a great writers’ resource center, with tools and tips for doing your best creative work. They host webinars and courses to help you on your way to a successful writing career. Stop in and see what they have for you!

The thing is, sometimes we hate our own writing. Sometimes a project starts out with so much potential and then suddenly you find that it’s gone terribly wrong… taken on a mind of its own and traveled to a place that you would never have taken it and that you never intended to go in the first place. That can be exhilarating, or it can be devastating.

At those times you may be tempted to scrap your project altogether… and that’s ok! It’s perfectly reasonable to take a break from your work and stretch your mind doing something else. Just DON’T throw away what you’ve already accomplished. Even if you hate it. Even if you think that you’ll never look at it again.

Put your work in a drawer (literally or figuratively) and give yourself some space… but NEVER give up on what you’ve begun. One day you’ll come back to it… 6 months… 2 years from now… and you’ll have a fresh perspective, a flash of inspiration that will help you to transform your writing into something new. But you can’t do that if you don’t have something to start with.

So get out there, get writing, and see where it goes! Then, if your project takes a turn for the worse, give it some time, some space… come back to it later. You might be surprised at what you find.

For developmental editing and good writerly advice, visit and follow my blog!

Michael Quinion of World Wide Words highlighted the word Grimoire in issue 872 of his newsletter this way:

2. Grimoire
A grimoire is a book of magic that may contain spells, conjurations, instructions for divination and the construction of amulets, and other secret knowledge of a supernatural kind. The examples include such famous works as the Sixth and Seventh Books of Moses, The Book of St Cyprian, The Key of Solomon and The Sacred Magic of Abramelin the Mage.
The word is French, in the same sense. It began to appear in French-English dictionaries early in the nineteenth century but became more widely known in the 1850s. In French, it was a medieval modification of grammaire, a book of grammar, by which was meant Latin grammar, since at the time there was no other kind. It derives from the Latin grammatica, the study of literature in general, which by the Middle Ages had come to mean knowledge of Latin.
The shift from book of grammar to book of magic isn’t as weird as it might seem. Few among the ordinary people in those times could read or write. For superstitious minds books were troubling objects. Who knew what awful information was locked up in them? For many people grammar meant the same thing as learning, and everybody knew that learning included astrology and other occult arts.

Grammar as magic

I love the idea of grammar as magic… and not just because I’m a freelance editor and prone to hours of reading. Words are powerful, conjuring images and ideas that can help those who read them change the world, or at least change their perception of the world. Perspective is a crucial part of our ability to survive and thrive. Words can build up and liberate or they can trap and enslave. They must be used wisely.

Quinion’s post got me thinking, Do I have my own grimoire for the craft of writing? As it turns out, I do. My grimoire, a notebook I keep while reading books on the craft of writing, is full of “spells, conjurations, instructions for [writing]… and other secret knowledge of a supernatural kind,” or helpful hints and encouraging quotes that I find as I go along through such books as Stephen King’s On Writing: 10th Anniversary Edition: A Memoir of the Craft or Betsy Lerner’s The Forest for the Trees (Revised and Updated): An Editor’s Advice to Writers. The words in my notebook are powerful, they’re the key to unlocking creative energy in myself and in my editing clients. They’re secrets and experience passed down by generations of practitioners of the craft of writing.

The cover of my Grimoire. “The Lightgatherers”
an original painting by Montserrat Bennett

We endow all sorts of people, objects and rituals with power over our writing, from our favorite authors to the reliability of our computers’ operating systems. Why not do something intentional and positive to add power to your writing? Start your own grimoire of your craft and fill it with powerful incantations from people who inspire you to be a weaver of words.

Motivation, as defined by Merriam Webster:  the act or process of giving someone a reason for doing something : the act or process of motivating someone

: the condition of being eager to act or work : the condition of being motivated

: a force or influence that causes someone to do something

Motivation, as it pertains to writing, can take two forms. First, there’s character motivation. I’m going to focus on villains here, because they usually get written as bad for the sake of being bad… and that’s not always the best, most powerful, or most plausible way to write a villain.

Understanding your villain’s motivations with regard to their actions will not only help you to decide what they do next, it will help your readers understand WHY they do what they do. Readers find “WHY?” very important, and if they don’t understand “WHY?” they’re liable to lose interest in your story relatively quickly.

It is possible to write a character that has no discernible motivations for their actions (take Iago in Othello, for example). We’re not all Shakespeare, though… And even Iago’s motivations can be teased out of the play if you want to look VERY deeply into it.

Instead, show us why your villain is bad. What does he stand to gain from his actions? Give us a snapshot of what happened in her past that made her the way she is. Take Voldemort, for example. Throughout the entire Harry Potter Serieshis most simple and immediate goal has been to kill Harry. Understanding WHY is very important, though, for Voldemort’s actions to make any sense to the reader. Also, Harry didn’t initially have to understand WHY Voldemort wanted to kill him. But in order to eventually defeat Voldemort, Harry would have to learn everything he could about his nemesis’s motivations.

In its other sense, MOTIVATION applies to you, dear writer. Find your story. Make it something you’re enthusiastic about. Because in order to succeed with your story, you’re going to be spending a LOT of time with it. And if you’re not motivated by the sheer joy of being with your story, you’re going to find the process of writing, editing, and publishing a very arduous one indeed.

Good luck and happy tales.

When drafting your piece, be it short fiction or long, it’s important to remember that the words you choose carry weight and that consistency of voice will add depth to your characters just as much as the actions and thoughts and feelings that those words convey.

When I’m writing a first draft, basically I’m grabbing at whatever words will do to get my point across. They’re like place holders. The first draft is a marathon and LANGUAGE doesn’t matter as much as getting the ideas down on paper.

When I’m editing, word choice becomes much more significant. The language I choose to describe a scene will greatly enhance the experience of the reader. Words hold powerful influence over how we perceive a character or setting.

Consider the following three examples taken from the first pages of three incredible books. (By the by, I’m moving in a few weeks, so all my Harry Potter books are already packed. These three books were chosen from what has not been packed yet.)

The Hunger Games – Suzanne Collins
When I wake up, the other side of the bed is cold. My fingers stretch out, seeking Prim’s warmth but finding only the rough canvas cover of the mattress. She must have had bad dreams and climbed in with our mother. Of course, she did. This is the day of the reaping.

I prop myself up on one elbow. There’s enough light in the bedroom to see them. My little sister, Prim, curled up on her side, cocooned in my mother’s body, their cheeks pressed together. In sleep, my mother looks younger, still worn but not so beaten-down. Prim’s face is as fresh as a raindrop, as lovely as the primrose for which she was named. My mother was very beautiful once, too. Or so they tell me.

Sense and Sensibility – Jane Austen
The family of Dashwood had been long settled in Sussex. Their estate was large and their residence was at Norland Park, in the centre of their property, where, for many generations, they had lived in so respectable a manner, as to engage the general good opinion of their surrounding acquaintance. The late owner of this estate was a single man, who lived to a very advanced age, and who for many years of his life, had a constant companion and housekeeper in his sister. But her death, which happened ten years before his own, produced a great alteration in his hoe; for to supply her loss, he invited and received into his house the family of his nephew Mr. Henry Dashwood, the legal inheritor of the Norland estate, and the person to whom he intended to bequeath it. In the society of his nephew and niece, and their children, the old Gentleman’s days were comfortably spent. His attachment to them all increased. The constant attention of r. and Mrs. Henry Dashwood to his wishes, which proceeded not merely from interest, but from goodness of hear, gave him every degree of solid comfort which his age could receive; and the cheerfulness of the children added a relish to his existence.

The Book of Flying – Keith Miller
I am dreaming. I’m dreaming of a city, a white city in the sun by the sea, a city of bells and birdcages, boatswains and ballyhoo, where heart-faced wenches lean bare-breasted from balconies to dry their hair among geraniums and the air is salt and soft and in the harbor sailors swagger from ships that bear cargos of spices. In this city a thousand doves live in the hundred towers of a hundred bells and in the mornings when the bell ringers toll a summons to the sun the doves scatter like blown ash across the tile roofs and light under eaves whispering lulling words to sleepers, bidding them stay in bed a little longer. And on the silver sky other wings rise.

In each case above, the language employed by the author paints a distinct picture. The narrative voice and the setting are solidified through the words chosen to describe the action. Imagine the picture you would get if the opening passage of the Hunger Games was written in the style that Keith Miller uses for the Book of Flying. You might not feel Katniss’s discontent or sense of urgency at all. Miller is painting us a picture of a beautiful land of enchantment. We couldn’t imagine otherwise after reading those opening words.

Jane Austen’s prose, far from being just a portrait of the times in which she lived, is calculated to give you an idyllic impression of the situation of the social class she is writing about, just before she smashes it all to pieces (ever so subtly and wittily, of course).

When they say a picture paints a thousand words… remember that a word, that LANGUAGE paints pictures as well. Choose your images with care.

When you’re writing, every pen stroke/keystroke/pencil scribble should exist to support the characters and/or the plot. Every stroke has meaning, down to the painstakingly selected word so imbued with context and flavor that you could not possibly avoid using it to describe your MC’s eye color.

Which is why you really have to be a student of kinesics for your active prose to come alive. defines kenesics as:

  • “the study of the way in which certain body movements and gestures serve as a form of nonverbal communication.”

As with any and all literary concepts, the key here is balance. The art of kenesics is to find a way to convey meaning with a movement. But you can’t just show us your characters’ movements. You also have to give us meaningful context for the movements. Here’s an example from (who else?) J.K. Rowling in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows:

   “I’m going to wash,” Harry told Bill, looking down at his hands still covered in mud and Dobby’s blood. “Then I’ll need to see them, straightaway.”
   He walked into the little kitchen, to the basin beneath a window overlooking the sea. Dawn was breaking over the horizon, shell pink and faintly gold, as he washed, again following the train of thought that had come to him in the dark garden…
   Dobby would never be able to tell them who had sent him to the cellar, but Harry knew what he had seen. A piercing blue eye had looked out of the mirror fragment, and then help had come. Help will always be given at Hogwarts to those who ask for it.
   Harry dried his hands, impervious to the beauty of the scene outside the window and the murmuring of the others in the sitting room. He looked out over the ocean and felt closer, this dawn, than ever before, closer to the heart of it all.
   And still his scar prickled and he knew that Voldemort was getting there too. Harry understood and yet did not understand. His instinct was telling him one thing, his brain quite another. The Dumbledore in Harry’s head smiled, surveying Harry over the tips of his fingers, pressed together as if in prayer.

The actions in this scene are relatively few, but they are powerful in their simplicity. Harry washing his hands after just burying his loyal friend… this is a symbolic act of sorrow as well as resolve. By the time Harry clears the dirt away he has a better picture of what he needs to do next in his quest to defeat Voldemort. There is no need for excess here… no mention of turning on or turning off the faucet, or rubbing his hands together, or wiping his face. Those actions would convey a different emotion than Rowling wants for Harry here. The quiet, contemplative act leaves you with a sense of Harry’s resolve.

Here’s another moment from earlier in the book, between Ron and Harry:

   The sword clanged as Ron dropped it. He had sunk to his knees, his head in his arms. He was shaking, but not, Harry realized, from the cold. Harry crammed the broken locket into his pocket, knelt down beside Ron, and placed a hand cautiously on his shoulder. He took it as a good sign that Ron did not throw it off.
   “After you left,” he said in a low voice, grateful for the fact that Ron’s face was hidden, “she cried for a week. Probably longer, only she didn’t want me to see. There were loads of nights when we never even spoke to each other. With you gone…”
   He could not finish; it was only now that Ron was here again that Harry fully realized how much his absence had cost them.
   “She’s like my sister,” he went on. “I love her like a sister and I reckon she feels the same way about me. It’s always been like that. I thought you knew.”
   Ron did not respond, but turned his face away from Harry and wiped his nose noisily on his sleeve. Harry got to his feet again and walked to where Ron’s enormous rucksack lay yards away, discarded as Ron had run toward the pool to save Harry from drowning. He hoisted it onto his own back and walked back to Ron, who clambered to his feet as Harry approached, eyes bloodshot but otherwise composed.

Kinesics is a practice closely related to beats in dialogue, in that they both contain character action. The point is to understand which actions will be the most effective in gathering up the emotional context of the scene and delivering it to your readers.

The Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary (11th Edition) lists the first definition for jargon as confused, unintelligible language.

While this definition holds true of a lot of first drafts (and quite a few of this blog’s posts, admittedly), the definition I want to focus on is “the technical terminology or characteristic idiom of a special activity or group.”

What more special group is there than your novel’s cast of characters? How often to you find yourself writing dialogue (or exposition) that makes complete sense to you, that falls well inside the normal speech patterns for your characters, only to hear from your beta-readers that they have no idea what your characters are talking about?

Especially when you’re writing fantasy, unique terms and phrases to describe objects or states of being are necessary! But the problem is how to introduce those terms, that jargon, without throwing your reader into a tailspin of confusion as they try to decipher exactly what your characters are trying to say.

Once again, I turn to the talented J.K. Rowling to illustrate what I believe to be a top-notch example of how to work jargon into accepted language for the reader.

“Where was I?” said Hagrid, but at that moment, Uncle Vernon, still ashen-faced but looking very angry, moved into the firelight.
“He’s not going,” he said.
Hagrid grunted.
“I’d like ter see a great Muggle like you stop him,” he said.
“A what?” said Harry, interested.
“A Muggle,” said Hagrid, “it’s what we call nonmagic folk like them. An’ it’s your bad luck you grew up in a family o’ the biggest Muggles I ever laid eyes on.”

If you do this too often, unfortunately, you’re going to overwhelm your reader and cause them to fall out of sync with the story. But! For the important terms, it’s worth experimenting with ways to sneak the explanation in.

One thing to note about the definition of the word muggle here and all it’s nuances the importance of characterization in helping to paint the picture of the term. Rowling has spent chapters by this point characterizing the Dursleys and their relationship with Harry so that when Hagrid labels them muggles, the implications of such a word reach far beyond nonmagic. So much so that when you hear the word muggle, do you not immediately thing of Dursley?

Take some time and create a list of the jargon you employ to build your world. Which meanings are obvious to your readers? Which are creating unnecessary confusion? How can you craft your narrative in such a way that the meanings of the words stretch beyond the literal definitions?

Yeah, that’s right! TWO I’s! There must be some sort of prize for that, right?

You hear the term Inciting Incident a lot in screenplay writing self-help articles. And it’s true that the II is highly important to movies and T.V. You have to have something for people to stick around for after the commercial! (of course, not so much in this age of computers… but when I was a kid… yeah)

In writing it’s just as important. Wiki Answers has a couple of great definitions for II:

* The conflict that begins the action of the story and causes the protagonist to act 
*Without this event, there would be no story. Also, it is better described as the State of Imperfection made explicit.

The II is what sparks the adventure! Where would Harry Potter be if he had never gotten his letter from Hogwarts? And I don’t need to tell you, master storyteller J.K. Rowling didn’t make that as simple as walking out to the mailbox, either. The amount of potential energy wrapped up in what it took to get that letter to Harry and for him to find out he was a wizard carried her through 7 novels and 8 movies! Oh to write a scene like that…

The important thing about the II is that it should come along fairly early in your story line. It doesn’t necessarily have to be in the first chapter or in the second, although usually SOMETHING inciting should have happened by the end of the second chapter. In HPaTSS, in the second chapter we find the prelude to the II… the incident at the zoo reveals that there really is something highly unusual about Harry, setting us up for the II actual in chapter three.

If you have too much set-up, you risk losing your reader’s attention. Pushing your II up to the second or third chapter helps to tighten your plot and get your reader invested in your characters development (or survival: see Hunger Games).

What other examples of IIs can you think of in your favorite books?