#WrydAndWonder #MapMonday Post: Using Emerging Tech for Fictional Maps

Alright, so that’s probably the longest blog title I’ve ever done, and this is by FAR the longest post I’ve ever written, but please bear with me, I think there’s some pretty great stuff here. Anywho, we’re here now. Where exactly? I’m not sure, if only we had a map which could tell us . . . Ok. Enough of that, it’s time to start.

So apparently, it’s #MapMonday for the Wyrd and Wonder thing I mentioned last post, which means we’re going to go on a bit of a thought exercise (because actual exercise is gross), and consider the state of Maps in the Fantasy genre and (what I see as) some possible future developments. Here we go!

We are here:

So most of us are probably used to reading Fantasy books which have maps that look something like this:

Map of Iraden from Ann Leckie’s The Raven Tower

We probably first encountered something like this while reading Lord of the Rings or The Hobbit and have been chasing that high ever since.

Why? Because it makes the world feel real. It helps us immerse ourselves in the Fantasy. Suddenly, ‘The Silent Forest’ (from the image above) isn’t just some random creepy forest, indistinguishable from the countless other creepy forests we’ve read about in other books, it’s THAT one, which we can see, kinda touch (in as much as we can touch the paper), and maybe taste, though I would not recommend it . . . think of your poor book!

Anyway, some books have bigger maps, or multiple maps, or maps with more colors, or interesting patterns. Maps of planets and galaxies, as well as the continents on which our characters experience their stories. This map of Brandon Sanderson’s Roshar, actually kinda looks like a storm cloud, which if you’ve read those books, you’ll know how significant storms are to the people living on this made up continent. In this case, the continent’s shape adds a bit of mystery and meaning to the story.

Map of Roshar from Brandon Sanderson’s The Stormlight Archive

*Of course The 17th Shard (a Brandon Sanderson Fan community), has already jumped the gun on where I’m going with all this by making this interactive map of Roshar (if you’re a Stormlight fan this is soo cool), but I’m just going to ignore that and give you my ideas too.

Where it might be cool to go . . .

Simply put, 3D maps for authors and interactive fictional maps for readers.

Now, most of what I’ve discussed so far has been from a reader perspective, although the 2D maps undoubtedly help the authors write better worlds and stories, I really think quick, and easy to make 3D map prototypes could really allow authors to visualize their world, and push their creativity even further. So I’ll start there.

3D printing for Map Prototypes and World Visualizations

This stroke of inspiration, comes from a tweet by the author Julie Czerneda (who if you haven’t read, stop now and go read), when she was kind enough to join us in a twitter chat that takes place on Fridays under the tag #scifichat. She writes:

In proper order incase the image doesn’t load:

#SciFiChat my aha moment from the model? There were a few, but the big one was when I was digging at a cliff on one side, to make ravines as one does, and realized the marks looked like claws . . . Ooooh the shivers.

#SciFiChat The other aha from the model was when I broke off some mountain and realized you couldn’t see all the way up the road…secret passage for the win!


Immediately, I was stunned. For two reasons. The first: I was in love with spontaneity of it all. How — to put it in Bob Ross’s terms — these happy little accidents could inspire an avenue for escape, or a new problem for the protagonists. The second: how just looking at your story world in a physical medium could immerse even the author further into the story. Create new ideas that the abstract concept of world building just could not create without a tangible artifact.

She had also mentioned that she had written a post about how she does the models. These images, and brief description were all I could find, but from what I can gather, her method involves carving polystrene for the landscape, paints, and various other materials that you might know about if you’re a model train builder. It takes a serious time commitment (like 240 hours aka a whole month of 8hr work days), and quite a bit of skill to achieve.

While amazing, this was also a bit discouraging. It’s never too late to learn a new skill or take up a new hobby, but to be able to achieve the kind of skill and mastery on display seems far beyond my reach, especially when trying to learn how to write, which already is enough of a hobby for two life times.

But maybe there were some skills I already possessed which might be similar and perhaps even faster . . .

3D printing, and the Pompeii Prototype

***Caveat here, I have not actually used this model to write a story (yet!), and I started with a 2D map already in hand, but I feel like the 3D image came out simple enough that I could have created it from scratch in a similar amount of time.

Anyway, I started with the following map of Pompeii which I shamelessly downloaded from Wikipedia:

Then, I used Adobe illustrator to focus on several important buildings which I thought would really represent Pompeii in my mind. In this case, it was the Amphitheatre, the Large Palaestra, The Small and Large Theatres, House of Julia Felix (I really need to google who that is!), House of the Surgeon and a few other smaller houses and the wall. From there, it was perhaps an hour or so of work to copy this image into a simple 3D modeling software called TinkerCAD, and extrude (‘pull upward’ into 3D) the prominent buildings.

Tiny Pompeii!

The end result looked like this:

I can just see my MC waking up in the House of the Surgeon to a loud boom in the distance. He has a festering wound in his left leg, but he manages to limp to the doorway and look out. The sky is black, and ash rains from the sky as Mount Vesuvius spits molten rock from its gaping maw. Are the gods angry? Oh no! His beloved! She rents an apartment in the House of Julia Felix . . . He must go to her, but as he limps down the avenue in nothing but his dirty robes, the way is blocked. Patrons from both the Small and Large theatres are bursting through the archways, running here and there in terror . . . well you get the idea haha.

The best part about this, is that this technology is relatively simple to use, and also pretty accessible to any writer who puts their mind to it. A lot of public libraries these days have 3D printers, and I would assume a lot of university libraries would too. And even if you are unable to actually proceed with printing out the object, just mapping it within the software can probably reenact a bit of what Czerneda described earlier.

Augmented Reality (AR) Landscapes

I’ve always felt there was tons of potential for Augmented Reality as an enhancement for literature. Both for readers, and authors. The same utility described above which can aid authors, might also be found, literally by playing with sand.

AR For Authors

Why not combine technologies? 3D Printing and AR!

Yup! Create your world from . . . Sand.

Ok, so this tech might be a little harder to get access to, but I still think it has great potential for authors. Essentially the concept here is, a box filled with sand, over which an image is projected. The geniuses over at UC Davis figured out how to gather topography data from the physical position of the grains of sand within the box, and then project a visualization of that data back onto the sand in real time. Change an aspect of the landscape, say by piling up the sand in one area, and you can actually see the projected image change in real time. The software also allows for some fun effects where you can make it rain, and see how the water would run down the hills and pool in the valleys of your world. The water can also be colored read to look like lava . . .

Also, the images are typically just beautiful to look at so why not try it out. In the image on the right, we also added some 3D printed objects to our world. The dam you see there really stops the digital rain from crossing.

AR For Readers

This is where I start getting really excited.

With the ubiquity of smartphones, almost any printed image could be a trigger for an augmented reality experience. Books already come with a plethora of artwork, whether at the front of a chapter, or interspersed throughout. What if you could use that artwork as a trigger for some AR augmentation.

Essentially the top image would trigger the bottom image on your phone . . .

For instance, let’s say we’re reading a book about everyone’s favorite god slaying badass, Kratos, from the God of War series. Him and Atreus adjourn to the Lake of Nine after fighting the dark elves or some such badassery, and as readers we’re like where is that? What does it look like? Immerse me in this world! Rather than having to flip back to the map in the beginning of the book, or worse find some appendix in the back, we just wave our cellphone over a printed symbol on that page, and our phone shows us the location on a 3D map.

If done well, maybe we can scroll around the map that we’ve discovered so far, but not proceed any further to locations still to come in the book because . . . SPOILERS!! yeesh.

Essentially, we’re getting the information we need to know at the moment we need it, without having to flip through a lot of pages. I’m not sure, but perhaps we could do this on kindle as well, because I’m not sure about you all, but I never look at any images or maps on my paperwhite, because they usually turn up terribly. Now, I could view them in 3D on my phone . . .

Sounds pretty dope.

Pushing Further . . .

Alrighty, I’ve got the wheels turning. What other dope technologies should we use in our fictional maps? Please let me know what you thought in the comments, and if you have any other great ideas, post em below! Thanks all for reading this and if anyone tries any of this, please let me know!

Bye for now . . .

8 thoughts on “#WrydAndWonder #MapMonday Post: Using Emerging Tech for Fictional Maps

  1. Neat ideas! I particularly like the possibilities offered by AR. I used to think AR was kind of silly/pointless but used with a printed book like in the example you give, it sounds like it could have a lot of fun/practical applications like that.

    • Thanks for reading! And yea. I’m hopeful that more people will start being creative with AR. I don’t think we’ve really accessed it’s true potential. Some stuff will certainly be silly and pointless but I think once all of that low hanging fruit is picked, we’ll really begin to see its potential 🙂

  2. Pingback: Quest Log the Second

    • Right?! I think there’s a lot to explore here. I think a lot of people consider books to be “just dead trees” or “obsolete”, but there’s definitely potential to bring them into the future with us. Now I just have to figure out how to actually do all of these things haha (so I suppose it’s like every other idea I have lol).

  3. Pingback: Friday Five: Can See Less Clear Now The Rain Is Gone – Peat Long's Blog

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