On Writing and Our Love of Maps

Maps and Writing

As a record of places traversed or those yet discovered, maps are synonymous with exploration and adventure. For the mapmaker, they’re also an artistic canvas—a space within which to express a point of view. Casey Cep, in her article “The Allure of Maps,” describes why writers love maps, how maps serve as a metaphor for the craft and the importance of map-making to novelists, including Robert Louis Stevenson, Ursula Le Guin and J.R.R. Tolkien.

Here are some highlights from her piece:

Writers love maps: collecting them, creating them, and describing them. Literary cartography includes not only the literal maps that authors commission or make themselves but also the geographies they describe. The visual display of quantitative information in the digital age has made charts and maps more popular than ever, though every graphic, like every story, has a point of view.

Every map tells a story, and writers yearning for new ways to tell stories are drawn to them.

And a favorite paragraph:

Peter Turchi argues in his book “Maps of the Imagination: The Writer as Cartographer” that all writers are mapmakers and that all writing is like a map. For Turchi, the map is more than metaphor: it is an organizing principle of narrative. Language is like a land, paragraphs are districts, sentences are streets, and words are only lines and curves constructed the way maps are made of lines and shapes. Letters are like wild canyons and chaotic seas that the writer maps into words and then into sentences and then into scenes.

Cep’s message on map-making isn’t exclusive to writers’ circles or the like—for even as everyday texters, emailers and status posters, we are each expressing unique points of view, and thus constructing our own literary maps.

For Cep’s full article, click here.

photo credit: DimitraTzanos via photopin cc