In its November 2009 issue, The Writer published a special section on writing settings, The Power of Place, with articles by Philip Martin (Power Your Story with a Sense of Place) and Linda Lappin (See with Fresh Eyes). Both articles offer excellent advice on integrating place into your fiction, but my focus is on Lappin’s article as it presents a unique way to think about and write about settings. She mentions the term “deep map,” coined by William Least Heat-Moon (from his travel book PrairyErth). What is “deep map” and how does it work in writing settings? To deep map is to do an in-depth exploration of a particular place, to comprehend its natural, cultural, and personal history, to get to know its genius loci, its soul. Lappin also discusses the body metaphor and says, “In some African cultures, the layout of villages correspond to an idealized form of the human body.” and she suggests applying this metaphor to your own place to “identify the boundaries, which may be said to correspond to the skin,” draw the parallel of roads and streets and traffic to the circulatory system, see if any other features may correspond to the human body. And then there’s the natural seasonal changes of a place and of course its history.
Just reading the article set sparks to flying in my mind. But how do you deep map a fantasy place? How do I deep map the city of Angharad? Piece by piece, for sure, depending on where each scene orsequence takes place. No need to write about a particular place until I get there in the book, and I”m sure I can imagine all sorts of details, and find parallels in the real world from which to extrapolate. I want Angharad to have as strong a presence as the book’s characters because the city is an important part of the plot.
Lappin’s article has opened a new window, and given me a fresh way to view A Lamentation of Swans.