Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Drawing the World for my Book by Donna Galanti
By Juanedc from Zaragoza, España via Wikimedia Commons

I spent three years writing and revising my first middle grade book, Joshua and the Lightning Road. It went several rounds with a hired developmental editor and then once I got an agent and publisher, it went several more rounds. 

On the first revision my publisher’s editor wrote this:
“There is a richness missing in the manuscript and there needs to be more solid world building. Where are we? Another planet? Another town? A different world? Are these worlds like ours, but different? How? What are the differences? Lack of sun? Is the air the same? Different?” 

Ouch, right?

I needed to ground the reader in my story otherwise they would be lost. As writers, we want to use senses to ground the reader and show how they are feeling – and we need to show our story’s world through the character’s eyes.

For example:
Are you on the ground in a scene?
You could write: “The earth was all gravel beneath my feet.”
Are you inside in a tunnel?
You could write: “The stale air threatened to choke me.”
If the characters are outside there could be a breeze.

Through dialogue you can also show time and distance such as:
“Tom’s house was just two miles away…takes a day’s walk to get there…one day’s travel by horse….I hadn’t been back since last summer.”

I had a sketchy map of my world but my editor suggested I draw a more detailed map to ground myself in the story – and ground the reader. 

Here’s my amateur map of the Lost Realm of Nostos:


This map was passed on to the illustrator, Al Sirois, who did the map for the book. Didn’t he do an amazing job with my chicken scratch?


And from this I had another designer create a poster as a giveaway:

And just for fun I also carved out the figures and places from the map to create memes and scavenger hunt pieces for bookshop signing giveaways.

I discovered much from my editor’s advice in drawing a detailed map of the Lost Realm in Joshua and the Lightning Road.

Drawing a map enabled me to:

  •  Correct timeline and logistic issues. 
  • Build a movie of the setting in my head and see where details of the world needed enrichment. 
  • Ground the reader (and me!) in the world so they didn’t get lost in the story. 
  • Incorporate a map in the book to guide readers visually. 
  • Make fun promotional images like memes! 
  • Create exciting book events like scavenger hunts with the map’s characters and places. 
  • Design a poster of the Lost Realm for giveaways.

Overall, drawing a map for the world led me to find a richer meaning in my story that spidered out into other fun ways to share my book with the world - which releases 5-19! But you can pre-order Joshua and the Lightning Road now and enter to win an iPad Mini - and the map poster.

Do you enjoy world building in your writing or in the books you read? What’s your process for world building? What are some of your favorite books with rich worlds?


  1. I love the process for your map. When I wrote Deadwood, the geography was so clear -- I could picture how streets fit together. I have a fantasy I'm working on with clear geography as well, but drawing a map would be an excellent way to focus.

    Wonderful post, Donna.

  2. Kell, that is amazing you saw such detail in your world! It is like a movie in our head, isn't it? Yes, drawing a map is fun and really helps logistically. Even if your story happens in just one house - knowing the layout of the rooms and secret nooks and where the sun rises and sets can add richness to your story.

  3. I always love books that include maps, something about all that detail really helps clarify the world for me. The Edge Chronicles by Paul Stewart and Chris Riddell is one of my favorites.

    1. Me too Brenda! Our very own Paul Greci here has a wonderful 2-page map in his new release Surviving Bear Island that I loved when I opened up the book. It's fun to read a book and refer to the map to create that movie in your head. I haven't read The Edge Chronicles. Is that fantasy? Have to check out!

    2. Fantasy, adventure with lovely illustrations. It does get slightly dark in places with brushes with danger in the Deepwoods, and more so in the second book. I'll have to check out Surviving Bear Island. Thank you for the info.


    Oops! Why are you shouting, Michael?


    (Maps are fun, too.)

    1. Michael, you are too funny! Shout away :)

  5. Great advice on world building while demonstrating the show-not-tell rule. Love hearing about the process...can't wait to read the book!


Thanks for adding to the mayhem!