We are so exited to kick off the Unchanged blog tour with this fascinating post from author Jessica Brody about the creation of the Diotech Compound map! Without further ado, here’s Jessica:
Maps are cool, right? I fell head-over-heels in love with the map featured in the Grisha Trilogy by Leigh Bardugo and of course, the map featured at the beginning of each episode of Game of Thrones. I’ve always wanted to write a book that warranted its very own map. I wanted to create a world so rich and unique that readers would revel in seeing it laid out in front of them in visual form.
So when I started writing Unchanged, the final book in the Unremembered trilogy, in which Seraphina finally returns to the top-secret research compound in the desert where she was created, I thought, um, yes. MAP TIME!
Little did I know what a challenging process it would turn out to be.
Step 1) Create the world that the map is based on. DUH!
Okay, so this part seems a little obvious, but it was hands down the hardest part of the process. Because Seraphina doesn’t actually return to the Diotech compound until the third book, I didn’t really have to figure out all the ins and outs of the compound layout until I set out to write the third book. And let me tell you, it was harder than I expected. I needed the layout of the compound to fit the story but I also needed the layout of the compound to make sense as a freestanding compound. I wanted the reader to be able to imagine it and say, “Yeah, I could see that being a real place.” And since I rewrote the first 1/3 of the book (the part where the majority of the compound scenes take place), you could say I gave myself a bit of a headache.
That’s when I decided I needed to do a sketch for myself. And this is when I reveal to you how very limited my sketching abilities are. I built this crude layout of the compound in Adobe Fireworks (similar to Photoshop) using simple boxes, rectangles, and circles, just so I could have a visual reference point to look back on as I was writing. And the little dotted lines are paths that Seraphina takes during various portions of the book. I plotted those out so I could make sure that any reference to her surroundings as she walked around the compound made sense. Also, so I could assure myself that she really was taking routes to places that made sense. i.e. She wouldn’t cut through the Engineering Sector on her way from the Restricted Sector to the Owner’s Estate.
Step 2) Hire map designer
Where does one go to hire a science-fiction map designer? This was a more difficult question than I realized. It’s not like this is a category on Craigslist! I ended up placing an ad on Elance.com, a great website that connects you with freelancers from all over the world. I got a tons of bids on my project from some amazing graphic artists from everywhere from the US to India! I eventually decided to hire a very talented designer named Mike (from Canada) because of his impressive portfolio and his background in illustrated maps. He’s created several wonderful fantasy maps that I simply swooned over.
Step 3) Familiarize map designer with your world
Oh poor Mike. You should have seen the document I sent him. It was 10 pages long and included everything from backstory about Diotech as a corporation, notes about the general layout of the compound, a list of all the sectors and buildings mentioned in the book, and then, I actually copied and pasted text from the manuscript of every time the compound is referenced in the story. So he could get a sense of how I described it in the book.
Desert-y looking compound
cool futuristic buildings
The kind of futuristic compound you don’t want your children stumbling across.
The world’s most sterile (yet awesome!) landscaping.
The inspiration for Dr. Alixter’s Owner’s Estate, which is supposed to look totally out of place within the compound.
I also sent Mike my crude sketch of the compound (with my sincere apologies for how awful it was!) and several “inspirational” photos like the ones below. These were pictures of things I had on my secret Pinterest board as I was writing the book.
Step 4) Receive initial sketches of the map
Mike did a fabulous job. He absorbed all the information I gave him (I’m sure he was thinking, I should have charged more!) and condensed into a single sketch. It looked like this:
Design by Mike Swallow
My first reaction was, “OMG! HOW COOL! MY WORLD IS REAL! AND IT HAS A REAL MAP!” Then I drank some chamomile tea and calmed the freak down and looked at the map objectively. There was something about it that was “off,” yet I couldn’t figure out what that was. I just knew in my gut there was something missing.
But I ignored my gut. I convinced myself I was just an amateur in this process and couldn’t see the map for what it really was. Mike asked if he could keep going and color in the map to finalize it. I said, “YES!” confident that the color would make all the difference and ease my doubt.
Step 5) Receive final map design! (HOORAH?)
The final design arrived a few days later. And my heart sunk. It wasn’t right. And the color didn’t help, it just exaggerated whatever I couldn’t put my finger on in the sketch. Although Mike’s work was, beyond a doubt, amazing, I knew instantly that it wasn’t the map. It wasn’t the compound that I had built in my mind.
The final design looked like this:
Design by Mike Swallow
I always assumed this moment—opening up the file of my very first book map—would be the most amazing, fulfilling experience, but it wasn’t. And I felt horrible. I felt like it was my fault. I felt like maybe I hadn’t given Mike enough direction. Maybe I hadn’t built a cool enough world to warrant a really cool map! I also felt guilty for leading Mike on and having him do all that work when I knew it wasn’t going in the right direction. But the good news was, I finally knew what was wrong with the map.
It was in the wrong medium.
The only book maps I had ever seen were fantasy maps and those are usually hand drawn. But fantasy and sci-fi are very different and ultimately I felt that the hand-drawn map of a sci-fi compound made the compound look almost too cartoonish. Not the intimidating, sterile, futuristic place that I had in my head.
Step 6) Back to the drawing board
My husband and I spent hours trying to figure out a new direction. Should we just make it black and white? Would that help? Did the sectors need to be less square? Would that do the trick? He eventually came up with the idea that saved my map.
“What if it’s not an after-the-fact map of the compound? What if it’s, instead, a blueprint of the design? Like the architect’s plans for the compound?”
Brilliant, genius hubby strikes again!
We got to work searching for cool futuristic blueprints online. I found this one of Washington D.C. and my mind was set:
Step 7) Repeat steps 2-5
Of course, I paid Mike for his work. But I placed another ad on Elance. This time specifying that I wanted a blueprint map for my fictional futuristic research compound.
That’s when I found the amazing Paul Sargent (in the UK!) who specializes in science fiction graphic design work. Seriously, check out his portfolio, it’s mind-boggingly good.
I sent Paul the same massive document and inspiration photos that I’d sent Mike (this time including the blueprint map of DC that I’d found) and he immediately got to work building the blueprints for the Diotech compound.
He first sent me a sketch that he made by hand. You’ll notice he sketched it RIGHT over my original crude map! When I saw this, I immediately knew that we were heading in the right direction.
I gave him the go-ahead to keep going! Next, Paul designed the map in Illustrator on top of his hand sketch. Here are some of Paul’s work-in-progress screen shots:
I was curious about Paul’s experience with all of this so I asked him what it was like to design the map from his side of things and if he would contribute a few words to this post. Here’s what he had to say about the process (pretty fascinating stuff!):
Paul: At first I was a little intimidated by the sheer scale of this place that I had been tasked with creating and solidifying by Brody from a selection of descriptions of a few individual areas.I had to really try and get into the mindset of Diotech Corp. in creating a place that represented the forward-thinking relentless march of progress while still keeping the separate areas identifiable from a purely graphical viewpoint. For the energy sector I took influence from chemical engineering plants as well as a close look at micro circuitry.
I imagined them capable of using any and all energy sources so needed to use symbology that would describe believable structures as well as those processes.
I found myself walking through a sparsely populated mindscape sketched out by Brody, creating towering imposing buildings, sleek research centres and intricate lab sectors just by putting down a few simple geometric vector shapes.
I had to remember this is also a living population centre, housing a thousand people and families, the human-oriented areas must be friendly and easy to navigate so often I found myself imagining the viewpoint from an entrance to a structure and designing the landscaped pathways from a crowd-flow and safety viewpoint, whereas with the more tech-focused areas I used harsher lines and geometry with less consideration for the human workers showing that the science itself takes precedence.
All the while I was immersing myself into Diotech headquaters I had to keep in sight a consistent level of intricacy and detail as fitting to the final product of the A3 poster.
And here is the FINAL blueprint map in all its glory!
I love how Paul worked his design credit in as though he were the chief architect! You’ll also notice some fun language he included at the bottom. That was all Paul! He took the creative initiative to add some flavor to the project and it totally fit within the world of the Unremembered trilogy. That was a huge sign that Paul really “got” what I was trying to do with this map.
It was a bit rough getting there, but now I couldn’t be happier with the final product.
Step 8) Get the map into the hands of readers!
Now comes the fun part. Getting you all a copy of this map so you can follow along as you read the conclusion of Seraphina’s story!
I had the map printed on the back of these awesome new Unremembered trilogy posters. And everyone who orders UNCHANGED (in hardcover or ebook) by March 1, 2015 gets an autographed poster!
Visit: http://jessicabrody.com/preorder for all the details!
So there you have it. The process of creating a fictional world and the map that will guide you through it. I hope you all enjoy Unchanged and I look forward to sending you a copy of Paul’s amazing blueprint map!
Unchanged by Jessica Brody is on sale now! Buy your copy today!