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9 January 2012 ·

Story Mapping

Usually when people talk about story mapping, they mean mapping out the shape of your story: how the smaller chapter peaks and cliff hangers build up to the great climax. Personally, that’s not something I can do before the first draft is done, and even then it’s more something I’m aware of than a formal, written chart.

What I mean is literally drawing maps for each story. Anyone who knows me and my sense of direction might find this amusing  – but actually it’s even more important if you don’t have that natural sense of where things are and how they fit together. The map I created of Nim’s island was up on my wall the whole time I worked on the book, and later sent to Kerry Millard, the illustrator, to be prettied up for publication. (I love the antique puffy-faced winds she added! The “not to scale” was my husband’s comment, which Kerry thought was so funny she added it too.

For Raven’s Mountain (Australia)/ Facing the Mountain  (coming in February in Canada), I had large scale maps of National Parks in British Columbia, then my own drawings of the mountain, her path down it, the camp site… if you’ve got a character out in the wild, you need to know which way the sun comes up over the lake, and remember that it’s not going to set in the same place.

Today I’m drawing a temple-palace – I’m not quite sure yet which it’ll be called, though I have a feeling that  I’ll know when I work out the drawing.  It’ll take a while – drawing is another of my not-so-gifted gifts – but I learn a lot about what I need to know as I do it. I get a better feeling of the materials; I know the colour of the stone now, and it’s not what I thought it would be. It’s all part of digging yourself into the character and the story.

I can’t share these now, but here’s one I made for Raven’s mountain: a salt dough conception of the peak, to see if my idea of how it could have eroded would work.

It doesn’t have to be just for fantasy kingdoms or eroded mountains: if you’re not sure of some of the logic in your story, or your character isn’t coming to life, pick up a pencil and start doodling ideas about their home, their street, their town. If you can picture their kitchen, their bedroom and garden, you’ll know a lot more about them. You’ll probably never use those details, but knowing them will give your character greater depth, and a better chance of coming to life on the page.


  1. Jill in a Box My daughter is reading 'Nim's Island' (well, I am slowly reading it to her) and she loves to constantly refer to the map. Inspired by the book, today she made a treasure map and guess what it looked like? Nim's Island! I always remember loving the map at the beginning of A Wizard of Earthsea, one of my all time favourite books.
    January 9, 2012 at 9:02 pm · Reply
  2. Wendy Orr How lovely! I can still picture the Wizard of Earthsea map too, though I couldn't find the book to check. I'd love to see her map if you want to scan and email it. My fridge is always covered with kids's drawings - I love them!
    January 9, 2012 at 9:14 pm · Reply
  3. Penni Russon My daughter Fred has always loved maps. I must get her Nim's Island, I think she's probably ready for it and she has very fond memories of visiting you and your "naughty" dog.
    January 10, 2012 at 10:34 am · Reply
  4. Wendy Orr I can imagine Fred being a 'wild child' as another friend's daughter always says when she's here - she told me that's why she has to get covered with dirt or charcoal in the bush, because that's what Nim would do, and she wants to be a 'wild child' like Nim.

    Small hairy dog says he's not nearly as naughty as he used to be now he's more grown up. He'll play very nicely if you come again.
    January 10, 2012 at 10:36 am · Reply
  5. Wendy Orr All the best to Jane with her writing, David! (My husband might say all the best to you for living with an author!)
    January 10, 2012 at 10:38 am · Reply
  6. Wendy Orr Thanks, Cara. It's reassuring to know that other people love the maps too! My publishers aren't always as enamoured of them as I am, and point out that there has to be relevance for that particular book. I was always glad that it was relevant for Nim.
    January 10, 2012 at 11:07 am · Reply
  7. Beth Montgomery You have inspired me to make a map of my next project. I love the model you made. A great way to become immersed in your setting.
    January 10, 2012 at 11:42 am · Reply
  8. Beth Montgomery You have inspired me to do a map of my next project. I love your model too. A great way to become immersed in your setting.
    January 10, 2012 at 11:54 am · Reply
  9. Wendy Orr Thanks Beth - I hope you have as much fun with your model as I did with mine. (Mine lasted right till publication, and then fell apart. Probably more to do with February heat than anything else, but I decided it meant its job was done.
    January 10, 2012 at 11:57 am · Reply
  10. Jill in a Box Hello,
    The map is too big to scan, but we took a photo! Let us know the best way to send it to you.
    January 10, 2012 at 7:51 pm · Reply
  11. Wendy Orr Sorry, I thought I had a 'contact me' button on this, but apparently it's just on the website. You can send it to me at wendyorr1(at)

    I look forward to seeing it!
    January 10, 2012 at 8:07 pm · Reply
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Wendy Orr is a Canadian-born Australian writer. Her books for children and adults have been published in 27 countries and won awards around the world. Nim’s Island and Nim at Sea have also become feature films, starring Jodie Foster and Abigail Breslin (Nim’s Island) and Bindi Irwin (Return to Nim’s Island.) Her latest book is Cuckoo’s Flight, a companion to the highly acclaimed Bronze Age novels Dragonfly Song and Swallow’s Dance. Read full bio