By Franklin Po, 4th year Environment & Sustainability Major
Geography can work with a variety of disciplines. Elements of cartography and GIS analysis can be used alongside History, Criminology, Anthropology, Health Sciences, and Education. With my final cartography project I wanted to push the boundaries a bit by trying to add Creative Writing to that list by making a map visualizing characters and storylines.
How do we think about stories? How do we plan them out or break them down? There are ton of ways, but probably the most common structure is a ski jump with an inciting incident, rising action with a push and pull of tension, climax, denouement, and then a conclusion. Maps also tell stories in a unique way by combining various data sets into a single output which I thought would be applicable to visualizing the various aspects of characters and their experiences and interactions.
I was inspired by Randall Monroe’s work on xkcd, specifically his narrative charts visualizing Lord of the Rings, Jurassic Park, Star Wars, 12 Angry Men, and Primer. I mapped out storylines from Game of Thrones in a similar fashion with the horizontal axis as time and the vertical line groupings indicating which characters are together at a certain time. I picked Game of Thrones because of the complex characters and the detailed storylines. Great stories are usually character driven and the series is a prime example of telling human stories in a fantasy world.
I wanted to do the books but that would’ve taken much more time, as a lot more scouring for details would have been required. Also I wasn’t sure if everyone had read the books and I didn’t want to spoil anything for the upcoming season. When I started planning out the process, I thought that it would be best to use Adobe Illustrator but my professor, Sally Hermansen, suggested that I do the project by hand, which was a wonderful idea since my Illustrator skills aren’t the best. Doing the project by hand meant a lot of rough drafts, erasing, and then re-watching the first three seasons, for educational purposes, of course. I tried to map episode by episode to get a more accurate time line of character experiences.
There are cartographic design principles incorporated into the project such as the neatline which is comprised of well-known quotes from the series or the use of dotted lines turning into solid ones to show how peripheral characters become more prominent in the story. There were a few challenges with the project such as leaving out certain characters, generalizing them into groups, or lines overlapping and going underneath in order to keep the characters organized. There are definitely aspects of the project that I would re-work in another iteration. Drawing and outlining by hand was tedious, but in the end, it felt fulfilling.
When I think about a story, I think about it in terms of characters experiences and interactions. Game of Thrones was a platform to show that storyline visualizations can take complex dynamic events and show them in a simplistic manner. With my final cartography project as a Geography undergrad, I wanted to use design ideas and aspects in an unconventional way. It was an opportunity to have fun combining two distinct topics that I’m passionate about and I’m looking forward to working on another creative project like this in the future.