Finding the Sweet Spot in Location Descriptions

Location Descriptions

As I plug away on filling in location descriptions for the Inferno map–an activity that not surprisingly is taking longer than I had originally hoped–I am constantly thinking about how much to write about each location, and how audiences will use this information.

Despite the many literary maps that already exist, I do not feel like this is a question that has been resolved. At one extreme a bookmap can simply include markers for every referenced location in a text. This type of map would provide some information about a book’s setting, and with enough sortable data from many books, it could even reveal some interesting trends. There are already some scripts that could do most of this work on books that are in the public domain–although with the numerous, and not always obvious, ways that authors reference locations, an automated system would make quite a few mistakes. Playing with a large enough dataset of this type could be fun, but maps for individual books would not have much appeal.

On the other end of the spectrum is a map with commentary that almost becomes a narrative of its own. Each location mentioned in a text is carefully researched and described in a way that provides a deep geographical context for a story. As a bookmapper, I am most attracted to this type of map, mostly because the research becomes so engrossing. I have found some of the most interesting stories behind the most innocuous references.

Researching locations from my favorite narratives and poems is an enjoyable, light intellectual activity that allows me to engage more deeply with my favorite books and learn about places. After devotedly working on this type of project for a a couple years, I can honestly say I am not sure how many other people would find this activity as a pleasant hobby, but one of my goals behind Booma is to encourage people to give it a try, with the hope that they will create detailed maps about the locations in their favorite books.

While I prefer this more thorough style of bookmapping, the time and energy it requires is a significant weakness. If a community of devoted individuals does not develop to produce these maps, they will continue to be churned out only by a small group of individuals and remain forever niche items. Another drawback to these maps is that they are most interesting to readers who are already familiar with texts.

Of course between these two extremes there are many options, and it is easy to find maps that focus on just quoting descriptions of places from books or projects that crowdsource short snippets about locations to produce more content with some descriptive context. Other maps focus specifically on literary tourists while still others attempt to preserve the literary heritage of a specific region. In each of these cases the goal of the map is as different as is the type of information presented.

As you encounter book and literary maps, think about the motivation behind the map and the type of information that is being shared. What do you prefer? Would you ever use a bookmap for more than just passing entertainment? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below or by sending us an email at We would love to hear what you think about this topic.