Creating fictional places, how much is needed to get it right?

I’m starting toancient town mapwrite a romance series.

One of the key parts of the story is a small town where the action takes place. In my other novels I have needed general sketches of the environment and some floor plans. For this town – as yet unnamed – I need details. It’s almost a character of the book. So I did some searching and came up with these steps from eHow.  I’m going to give you my thoughts on how I’ll fare.

Getting ready

Okay I think we can assume I can get graph paper, a pencil and a marker together. It says a fine tipped black marker, but I’m going off the play book and will use colors.

Steps 1-3. There’s hope that they all come together

I’m including some of the pre-step 1 information here because it all feels the same. Draw a rough outline in pencil, begin to fill in more details.

I’m looking for a town so I’ll keep it into a rough rectangle or square. I’ll leave lots of room for countryside. Here’s where I think I’ll need the eraser – and  a big one. I have problems thinking through things like cross streets and intersections and how they relate to each other.

Pencil is good – eraser is better.

Step 4 and 7 – Naming places

Well, I’m told I have an knack for names so I think if I make it to here, I’ll be fine. I already have a name for one of the buildings. I’m thinking churches and diners and stores are going to be more fun than effort.

Step 5 and 6 – Making it more permanent

This sounds simple. I just have to use the marker(s) to go over the pencil lines. So, assuming I haven’t erased a hole or two in the paper, you would think I would be cruising here. Not necessarily, I get cocky. I need to marshal my patience and even stick my tongue out of the side of my mouth to focus myself.

If it works for children I’m willing to try it.

Lessons I learned in thinking this through

Here’s the point. Drawing isn’t my thing, but I’m the one with the details in my head. The only way I can know if it works is to give it a try. For a writer, it’s not just about getting words on a page. To make your story feel real, you need to deal with the details. Not only do you need to know the plot and characters, you need to know the intimate details of the place and time.

You may never use 90% of the information you gather, but if you don’t know it, you’ll make a mistake that your readers will catch. I learned this as I was writing Off Track. At one point I had Madeline wandering around the house and she managed to walk a corridor that couldn’t be there because I’d described the view from the windows of the room. I quickly sketched out a layout of the house to make sure I didn’t forget that kind of detail again.

Now the map is thought through – next step the romance.

map of fictional Oregon town

Update:

Here’s my first try a a street map for a fictional small town.