Do diagrams and maps have a place in novels?

Do you like diagrams and maps in fictional works?


At the moment I am reading Matthew Reilly’s The Six Sacred Stones and he uses lots of maps and diagrams. I like pictorial reference points in novels but I know others absolutely detest it.

Some say the diagrams of his settings are childishly simplistic and hence patronising to the reader.

I enjoy having little maps and pictures to refer to. It aligns with the way my mind works and absorbs information (but I am mathematically trained so that’s not a surprise I suppose).

Others say it’s a poor reflection on his communication through prose that diagrams are even needed.

I’m in the camp that says it’s not that Reilly does a bad job conveying the setting (on the contrary), it’s just that the diagrams help readers quickly follow the flow of the sometimes complex action sequences.

Let’s be frank, Reilly does not claim to be a second Tolstoy. His focus is on the story telling, and the stories he tells are escapist ones.

Reilly says he often uses the diagrams and lists for twist, and it is crucial to him that they are formatted correctly. On his website Matthew Reilly explains his use of diagrams:

I do them myself. I also deliberately try not to make them too detailed. They are there only as a reading aid. I absolutely do not want to take the ‘imagining’ of the book from the reader. I want readers to picture Wilkes Ice Station or Area 7 for themselves, I just try to help them out with the basic layout.

That said, I am most proud of the diagrams in Area 7. So far as I know, they are the only diagrams in a novel that ‘evolved’ with the story – as the underground facility floods, the diagram changes with it!

mapAlthough Reilly’s use of pictures is very pronounced, fictional works that are considered much less contemporary/commercial, literature even, make use of diagrams.

How much poorer would the reader’s experience be without a family tree diagram to refer to in Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude? I know I found it invaluable.

In my opinion diagrams are simply another form of communication (another language) that when used in the right setting and appropriate frequency can really enhance the message being conveyed.

After all, the ultimate objective is to convey a message in the most effective manner possible is it not? Note I said effective, not efficient. :)

What do you think?
Are you a map geek like me?
Do you think fictional authors should stick to words and leave the maps to Google?

Subscribe to Booklover Book Reviews posts by email or RSS reader

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


  1. I have no problems with diagrams, and frankly, if Matthew Reilly didn't put diagrams in his books I'd be totally lost and have no idea what he was on about :-) As you've said – I think a lot of genres benefit from having some kind of diagram to facilitate understanding of the story such as fantasy and multi-generational sagas.

  2. I absolutely loved the maps that were included in The lord of the Rings – to my mind they, along with the ultra detailed back story really made that world come alive. Indeed I have not only the maps in the LOTR but have gone on to collect any other map made of middle earth from poetic to topographic.

    With Reilly's you can take it or leave it. I don't find that I need them to get the gist of the action and where things are.

    I do find it interesting that he doesn't want to make them to detailed or fancy or they might alter the readers imagining. To me its just added flavour. What about book covers, they help set the scene, shape the readers imagining.

  3. I love diagrams when there is a lot of action, particularly when they are fairly simplistic–I don't want to spend a lot of time on the maps. I'm just using them to orient myself.

  4. I haven't read Matthew Reilly so can't comment on those but I read a great deal of historical fiction and definitely agree, family trees and maps are invaluable. Important enough to warrant a mention of their inclusion, or lack of, in my reviews.

  5. It's so funny you should bring this up, Joanne. I don't think I've read anything on this topic on any other blog. I've read the Matthew Reilly books, well, most of them anyway – they are great escapist fiction. My favorite, I think, is AREA 7, but the one set in the snow and ice of the South Pole (?) is great too – forgot the title. Anyway, yeah, Reilly does like to show maps and diagrams. To tell the truth – I look at them and then forget them since most don't make any sense to me. A map reader I am not.
    (I get lost finding the ladies' room in any large office building.) But somehow, I like that Reilly includes them. Shows he's given the locations of his stories a great deal of thought and that they are real to him. It's not just Reilly though, there are sometimes mysteries which diagram the layout of the old manor house in which the murder victim is found. Fun.