Mapping a Historical Novel

Does a historical need a map?  The short answer?  Sometimes yes and sometimes no.

I know that’s not really an answer but let me continue.  My novel is just under 100,000 words, not long in the style of Sharon Kay Penman or Colleen McCullough.  But long enough to tell my characters’ Revolutionary War story.

John and Lucinda both do some trekking around the Province of New York, enough that I started to get confused as to just where the action was taking place.  Did John go east or north?  Was that Seneca village to the west?  Where exactly was the river they traveled on to get to their cabin in the woods?

I scoured the Internet and the local library for period maps and had it all pretty well worked out.  Of course that was when I started my writing journey four years ago and, while I have learned a lot, written much more, and sourced out wonderful help along the way, that initial trail in my head has become somewhat overgrown.  What I didn’t do was make my map at the start.  I thought I’d remember it all.  Not so much.  Now, as I am honing in on my final revisions before editors take over, I rue the day I decided not to make my own map.

So when does a historical not need a map?  Perhaps when the plot is not so centered around actual battles or the treacherous paths one’s characters take.  Mine needs those details because the setting is so tied in to the action.

In the next couple of days I will be rereading for the thirty-second time and mapping exactly where my characters go.  And that map will be part of my book.

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4 thoughts on “Mapping a Historical Novel

  1. Elaine,

    A pantser turned plotter, you could say that nowadays I am mapping everything I write!
    My short, Storyteller (title story of the collection) takes place in 1855. I didn’t make a map, since I knew where all the places were, but I did have to check that the villages my character passed through existed back then, and that they had the same names as they do now.

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  2. Yup. We have to check everything. And then our prepublication readers flag things we’ve already checked and we have to check again if we’ve forgotten. One of my critique buddies actually puts in parentheses the year a certain expression began to be used so that she isn’t accused of anachronisms.
    Thanks for commenting, Sherry 🙂

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  3. Not only is a map of interest to readers but may prevent you from having characters make a hundred mile trip with horse and buggy between breakfast and supper. LOL

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