Discussion || Character Lists & Maps

Hi, guys! I haven’t posted a discussion in a while, so I thought it’s about time for one, am I right? Today I want to discuss Character Lists & Maps. You know, those thingy’s sometimes in the front of books (mostly fantasy)? Yes, I’m sure there’s a specific name for these “thingy’s”. I just don’t know what it is!

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At the front of some books, most often times in fantasy, you’ll find a map and possibly a list of characters, as well as their role in the story. These lists can be quite long and intimidating sometimes, and the maps quite complicated. Of course, it’s not a necessity that you utilize them. But that’s what they’re there for: REFERENCE. What I want to address today, is whether or not these long lists of characters, and complicated maps, are worth the trouble.

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I know what you’re thinking… how could there possibly be any cons to such a helpful reference? Well, that’s the thing. Is it helpful? Let’s see…

PROS

→ You can get an idea of the characters beforehand aka Knowing What To Expect.

→ It’s not going anywhere. So if you need to flip back to the front to remember a location, or a character’s role in the story, it’s right there.

→ It can be fun! Checking out the map of a fantasy land can be entertaining, right?

CONS

→ It can get confusing. Yes, it sure can. There’s no way most of us will remember all those names and every location on the map… unless we sit there and study it for hours.

→ And who wants to keep flipping back to have to reference a character or location? (I don’t.)

→ If you do choose to keep flipping back to the front for reference, that can end up being pretty time consuming. Time you could be actually reading the book.


Ok, so it looks like we have a pretty even playing field with our pros and cons. Let’s talk about it…

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For me, I don’t think I have one time in my life read a character list all the way through, or sat and studied one of the maps in my books. Maybe this is a bad thing. Maybe I should. But I’ve never had a problem understanding the books even though I didn’t go through that process. In my opinion, I could take or leave the long character lists and the maps. I, personally, don’t utilize them. I always skip past. But I want to hear from you guys…

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How do you feel about character lists and maps? Do you utilize them? Have they helped you better comprehend a story? Or are you like me, and skip past them without ever referencing back to them?

So let me know below if Character Lists and Maps are…

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91 thoughts on “Discussion || Character Lists & Maps

  1. I love a map at the beginning of a book. It gives a good idea of the world the story is set in. And the majority of maps that I have seen are pleasing to the eye. Character lists are really good if you’re reading a play or the poems from Ancient Greece. I don’t think I’ve ever really come across them in a fantasy book before.

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    1. Thanks for sharing your opinion, Ashley! 😊 So many fantasy books I’ve read have maps in the front, especially Leigh Bardugo’s books like Six of Crows and the Grisha Trilogy. But I don’t really study them. I look at them and move on, BUT I do agree that they can be beautiful!!

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      1. Yes, it will definitely help you understand Lord of the Rings more. Lord of the Rings is also meant to be read as one book so if you don’t have it and are looking to buy it, I suggest buying the 50th anniversary leather bound edition.

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  2. The only books I’ve read where character lists were truly helpful were A Song of Ice and Fire, and they have the lists where they belong: in the back. His Fair Assassin has a character list in the beginning of each of the books, and I can see the motivation, I guess, since the series involves a fair number of historical people with different positions, but they still weren’t necessary. I think I checked it once in my entire read of the series.

    Character lists at the front feel spoilery to me, but I do really, really enjoy maps and end up referencing them often.

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  3. I don’t really bother with character lists,you learn about the characters and their relationships in the book so why read about them before you’ve even started??

    However, i do like a map in my books, it probably comes from being an avid fantasy reader but I’m accustomed to maps at the start of a book, the book I’m currently reading and it’s epic fantasy doesn’t have one and it seemed strange to me, I don’t study them but it’s nice to know that there is one if you’re confused about where a location is, etc when reading or if you remember reading that a place is fifty thousand – slight exaggeration, I know 🙂 miles away and yet the characters have some how got there in a day or two, just for reference purposes I like them in fantasy books. 🙂

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  4. I adore both maps and character lists. Catherynne M Valente’s Fairyland books utilise character lists and I love them. Her characters are always quite unexpected, so reading them really gives nothing away and definitely helps me fall in love with the book before reading.

    An example of part of the character list for The Girl Who Raced Fairyland All the Way Home:
    MERIDIAN, an Ancient and Overgrown Library
    GREENWICH MEAN TIME, a Security System
    FIZZWILLIAM, a Bathysphere
    HUGGER-MUGGERY, an Octopus Assassin
    SEPIA SIPHUNCLE, a Cuttlefish

    Maps also enter into my love of beautifully designed books, they make the production value look that much bigger.

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    1. I hate flipping back and forth too, Jess! So I usually just look at them once, and then that’s it. Unless, on rare occasions, I absolutely need a refresher, then I may skim back to the front. Have you started listening to Six of Crows yet? Because I think you’d be ok with the maps, honestly. When I read it, I had no problem comprehending the world, and never once had to look at the map for reference. But that’s just me. I hope you enjoy Six of Crows, though!! 😊

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  5. Usually I find them really helpful! But for me, characters’ list kinda goes first, and then the map is coming for help when I get stuck at some descriptions. Plus I basically love analyzing, so these two never were an obstacle for me!

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    1. For some people, they may be a requirement because like you said, for a better visualization of the novel/location/characters. But for me, personally… they’re not required for me to understand the story. I learn all that inside the book, while I’m reading. Although it is fun to look at the pretty maps of fantasy lands 😊 Thanks for sharing!

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  6. Fall in love when I crack a title and find a map and reference lists 💙 Fantasy reader haha. Maps are so nice for the visual. I love seeing the layout of an expansive world before me. It helps.

    Character lists, references, etc are not intended to be read all of the way through I don’t believe. They are a “just in case”. Since it is not necessary to read them but they can be ofnhuge help in larger stories, I will always prefer a title have them. You never know 😉 I hardly utilize them ever, but again.. just in case. In fact several recent reads of mine the authors opened by asking the readers to only read through and utilize the references if needed.

    Great discussion post! 💜

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  7. Very interesting topic. I’m split here, because I love the maps in Fantasy books. I’d love to take my favorites, plow them up, and frame them as art for my walls. I also frequently, while reading, flip back and look at where the characters are now on the map and backtrack through where they’ve been. I like to follow their footsteps.

    However, I hate character lists. I never read them. I never reference them. Ever. They’re like the glossery (if there’s a language in the story). If I haven’t figured out who the character is, I’m not likely to go back and look them up in the character guide.

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  8. It definitely depends on how much it helps the reader. In the case of one of my favorite YA series, Warriors, there are so many different characters, having the list to refer to was SO helpful. And having the map of their territory, because it simplified trying to imagine just where each group lived, also worked. But I often don’t care for lists/maps in high fantasy, because they’re often presented in a way that just densely packs too much information, and doesn’t always help make things more clear as I read the story.

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  9. hmm interesting post .

    For me , I like maps , I like to read Fantasy and Maps really give me a focus point of sort and it makes me really trace all the places that the story is mentioning .

    In regards to the Characters I think most times i don’t look at the character list , I feel as if by reading the book without looking at the Character list before hand I can actually relate to the character more . That said , some books have a huge number of side characters and obscure one , case in point – Malazan book of fallen , It has so many characters and many are so obscure that they would be mentioned in one book for a few pages and than rementioned 2 or 3 books later with a major role in the story , it’s cases like this where the character list helps as a reminder .

    Another similar example was A Song of ice and fire , specifically – A dance with Dragon , when i read that book it had been 4 years after I read Feast of Crows and I had forgotten many characters that had minor roles in the book

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    1. Ahh, yes. I never thought about character lists being a refresher for certain series. Like you said about A Song of Ice and Fire. Character Lists would probably become very useful in that situation. I’ve yet to read any of the GoT books, but I want to! And I will! As soon as I get the nerve to pick up those huge books! Lol 😂 Thanks!!

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      1. If you have seen the TV show , I would say don’t read it , U can follow the series via TV on a yearly basis but when I read the book it would take you 4 or in case of winds of winter 8 years to reach next book

        Basically I think maps are cool and character inventory is for a refresher purpose , not meant to read but just in case you forgot

        Liked by 1 person

  10. I personally am not a fan of character lists. It seems to me that if a writer has to provide a list of characters in order for the reader to keep track of who does what, then there is a problem. They either have WAY too many characters, or the characters aren’t unique enough to stand out as their own person in the story. I actually stopped reading the Ink Heart series half way through because there were too many characters with similar sounding names for me to keep up with, and it was taking an insane amount of time to flip back and forth to the character list. I think maps are another story though. I’m totally blind, so maps are usually just something I scroll past in an eBook since they do me no good on an iPad screen, but I do see the value. I remember listening to the Throne of Glass audio book and wishing for a tactile copy of the map so I could understand the world. I think in instances like the Throne of Glass universe where the world is completely imagined, maps are great because they pull the reader deeper into the story universe by letting them visualize the geography as they’re reading.

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    1. I really couldn’t have said it better myself, Cheyenne! That’s how I’ve always felt. If you need a character list to understand the characters and their roles within the story, then something is wrong, like you said. I do agree that maps can provide a nice visual for the geography of the story’s location, even though I personally don’t use them. Thanks for sharing, Cheyenne!

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  11. I love those lists, they’re really helpful for me!! I don’t think I’ve ever read a book that has a character list (I know that ACOTAR has one, even tho it’s small, but I haven’t read it yet) but I used to read some books with glossaries …
    Maps can get pretty confusing sometimes, but they’re an interesting addition to the book 🙂

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  12. I can take it or leave it. I do love the visuals and the extras, but I don’t exactly keep flipping back and forth when I start reading.
    I’ve got character profiles and maps for my books, but mostly as a reference for myself.

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  13. I skip past them when I start reading, but I do sometimes refer to them in the middle if I can’t remember who a particular character is. But if I have to do that too often, then I get irritated – the author should be able to remind me subtly without me having to go to a list. They’re hugely useful when writing a review though, since my memory for names is atrocious! And I always love a good map…

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  14. I think both are helpful. I love maps in books so I have no complaints there. With character lists, I think they are necessary for large casts, especially if the characters have similar names or live in different places. I don’t think we’re expected to read through them, but just to use them as guides as we read.

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  15. Maps can be both super helpful and really confusing! I once had a book where the narrator said she was going south from her current destination, but then she ended up somewhere on the west coast and I just did NOT get what just happened.
    And I do love character lists if they have a pronunciation guide, but other than that I don’t really need it (except for Game of Thrones … who can keep up with all those houses!?). I have seen lists that actually spoiled the fate of characters though, so those were a big fail.

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  16. I love seeing maps at the beginning of a book but with that being said I never go back and look at them. I will usually skim over it really quickly when I first start the book and then “forget” about it but they are pleasing to the eye!

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  17. I don’t mind maps being included in a book, it’s kind of fun to see a new world mapped out before you read. However, a lengthy character list is a bit cringe worthy to me. It just seems if there’s a long list then the book will be one of those that’s just a bit too much to keep track of and hard to connect with so many in it although sometimes that’s not the case.

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  18. I understand the lists and maps as for reference. I don’t think anyone expects you to sit there and memorize all the names and places! (If they do, I’ve been doing it wrong!) I don’t generally find character lists too useful, but I do think maps are fun.

    And the “things” at the front of the book are generally called “front matter.” Very original, yes? 😉

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  19. I don’t think I’ve ever utilized character lists or maps either. I mean I love looking at maps just because I find them nice to look at. It’s neat that they took the time to map out the book world and all of that but I never go back to them while reading. Character lists I actually avoid because I’ve heard of a few that have spoiled a book for people, they told who lived or died. But now that I think about it they could be helpful if you need to reference back for a review on a book with a lot of characters. I’ve had to make my own lists to remember all of the characters in a book a few times 😂. I actually might have to start using them just for that. But, yeah, mostly I skip past them too! Great discussion, Megan!! 😊💕

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  20. In regards to character lists, I like them when the book has an insane amount of characters and/or characters with difficult names. If characters are related, I also appreciate a family tree…. I just like to know who characters are in relation to one another. HOWEVER like I said, I only think this is necessary when you have a book that has a million characters (think Game of Thrones here)

    I am a big time sucker for all maps… it doesn’t even matter if the book needs a map or not. If the book has a map, it automatically gets bonus points 🙂

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  21. Maps in front of a book, I find a bit useless ( I never pay attention to them), but I do apperciate how good they look! I rarely came across a book with a character list, but when I do, I always read them to give me a good sense of the characters. Great post!

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  22. Great post, Megan! 🙂
    These lists/maps do make sense for some books and I think after a while you just get the gist of it and don’t need them anymore. But they’re absolutely crucial for the first book in a series, so I like them. If the story gets too confusing though, they won’t help much and everything ends up being kind of a hassle. So it depends, really!

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  23. If there are way too many characters that can be confusing at times, a list could be useful while reading, if they’re accompanied by some indication on who that person is. Like for instance in Game of Thrones… To be honest, even now (after reading the series and watching the show) I can’t recall all the names unless they’re my favourite character and I’ve been vouching for him/her since the beginning. But it’s usually while I’m reading that I go back to it. I don’t check it at the beginning. I also like family trees in family sagas.
    When it comes to maps, I don’t really use them. And besides, I’ve never come across a book with lots of different kingdoms and the author only using “North of *name of another kingdom*” so that you’d need to know where you are exactly using a map. Buut, it does look great in a book!

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