Recently I answered a questionnaire for a guest blog spot. One of the questions was "how do you keep it all straight?" and a partial answer is "with a map". Or two or three or four maps. Every individual works differently. Some, like me, work best with visual cues. Yes, I have quite an imagination, but I find that when it comes to spacial aspects of the stories, I need something to look at. Since I make up my own worlds, it's up to me to draw the maps. For each world, continent, village, maybe even house, I need a drawing to help anchor me in space.
Color--lots of colors--separate the different symbols on the map. I don't know what it is about color, but I've always loved a lot of color. I was always the kid with the most crayons. Now I've just traded them for colored pencils, markers, pens, inks, and brushes.
And maps? I loooove maps. If I could, I would collect maps. I love books that have maps in them. I want to see where I'm going, where I've been, and where I am now. So maps for my stories have all the elements I need and want. When I get confused, I pull out the map and check to see which way my characters need to go. When do they cross the creek? When do they need to walk around that mountain? How many houses do they pass from one end of the village to the other?
Drawing a map has another function. When laying out a town or village, it forces you to consider what kinds of buildings are in the town or village. And that starts the thinking process about the rest of your world-building chores. For instance, what kind of shops are in this village? Where is the school? Is there a town or village hall? A bank? And if not, what kind of monetary system is it that doesn't require a bank? What kinds of village records are kept and where?
In Mystic Valley, the monetary system is by barter. So I have barterkeepers who keep track of who owes what to whom and those same people also keep other types of records. Most villages have a butcher shop where the hunters turn in their catch. There's a bakery. There are seamstress shops where the villagers order their clothing and household linens. And tons of other little workshops where the necessities of life are produced. The act of placing those workshops on a map cements the village more firmly in my mind.
Of course the most important aspect of a map is simply one of direction. It's never a good thing to have your characters going south to get to point A from point B and then have them going west or east the next time. While I might be spacially challenged, there are many readers who are not. And they don't hesitate to point out your errors.
For myself, I admit that my maps are elaborate and colorful, but that doesn't have to be the case. A piece of paper with a few key points noted in pencil serves the same purpose. The same thing can be done with an interior setting. I once read a book where the author stated early on that the cabin only had one door. The characters entered the cabin by the front door. Later in the story the heroine escaped by exiting at the back door. Well? Which was it? Draw the floorplan. Then you visually see that there is only ONE door.
They went thataway.