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  • jrblackburnsmith

Cartographers




In this day of GPS taking us from doorstop to doorstop, many people forget what it was like to travel using a map, let alone to travel by compass or the stars. And when we see the Google Earth car driving down our street taking pictures it totally destroys any sense of connection we may have with the explorers and cartographers who set out to map the world, or their region of it, throughout our early history.


You might be asking "What does this have to do with a blog about storytelling?" I always say if you give me 95,000 words I can connect any two ideas, but I'm actually thinking metaphorically today. I'm working on a new project, feeling my way towards a story, and it feels a lot like being in the wilderness without a map. I write without an outline; I don't know where the story is going to take me until we (the characters and I) get there. In fact, I become the cartographer mapping the world in which the narrative exists.


Like an early explorer, I may see landmarks in the distance that can orient me, but I'm often caught under the heavy canopy of the wild forest and can see nothing but the terrain immediately surrounding me. I can languish in the wilderness for months --years in the case of some books-- as I stumble forward, one step at a time, hoping not to get lost.


"How melodramatic!" you might be saying. Well, thank you. Building tension within a narrative is part of what makes a story exciting. Those early explorers took their lives into their hands when the set off into lands unknown, and a writer does nothing of the sort. Except that sometimes we do. It's easy to follow a concept down a narrow twisting path until you realize you have gotten into quicksand and there is no way out. My computer is littered with the desiccated corpses of partially finished novels that will never see the light of day. Next to each one of them is a part of my creative soul, and a little of my hubris --thinking I could write that book-- gathering dust.


So, the next time you yell at your GPS for getting you lost or curse out an author for an ending to a book --or death of a character-- that you think ruins everything that came before it, just remember that someone took the time to hike off into the wilderness to get you to that place.


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