Scope creep (aka project creep, requirement creep, or kitchen sink syndrome) in project management refers to ongoing changes and continuous (or uncontrolled) growth of a project. This can occur at any point after the project commences.
In writing, this happens when the narrative keeps expanding, and expanding, and expanding … and what was canon in chapter 4 is contradicted in chapter 44. The story grows as we write it.
I love the name kitchen sink syndrome. It means we begin adding everything but the kitchen sink to the project—one of my fatal flaws. This becomes a problem when building science fiction and fantasy worlds because they emerge from our imaginations and grow and evolve with every new idea we have.
Scope creep is built into the early drafts. Readers remember the smallest details and use them to visualize the world they are reading about. They notice contradictions.
We fantasy and sci-fi authors can inadvertently build flaws into the geography as we lay the story down on paper and expand on scenes and interactions. This is why you need some idea of distances and how long it takes to travel using the common mode of transportation.
We don’t want to build contradictions into our narrative, but we all want a way to speed up the process of finishing the first draft. I find a small, hand-scribbled map is the best way to do this. I begin with the opening location.
Also, and this is important–when I get stuck and can’t think of what to write, creating a map helps jog things loose.
Much of my work takes place in the world of Neveyah. This alien environment is familiar to me because I based the plants and topography on the Pacific Northwest, where I live. Other than the Escarpment, the visible scar left behind by the Sundering of the Worlds, the plants and geography are directly pulled from Southern Puget Sound’s forested hills and the farmlands of Western Washington State.
Conversely, the Valley of Mal Evol is a reflection of the eastern half of our geographically divided state.
In 2008, when I first began writing in this world, I went to science to see how long it takes for an environment to recover from cataclysmic events. I took my information from the Channeled Scablands of Washington State, a two-hour drive from my home. This vast desert area is formed by the scars of a series of natural disasters occurring around 13,000 years ago.
From Wikipedia: The Cordilleran Ice Sheet dammed up Glacial Lake Missoula at the Purcell Trench Lobe. A series of floods occurring over the period of 18,000 to 13,000 years ago swept over the landscape when the ice dam broke. The eroded channels also show an anastomosing, or braided, appearance. 
But what if we’re writing a historical novel. No matter when or where your book is set, a certain amount of worldbuilding will be required. But even though your book may explore a real woman’s experiences, researched through newsreels, her diary, and the interviews you had with her just before her death at the age of 103, you are still writing a fantasy.
This is because, in reality, the world of any book exists only in three places: it begins in the author’s imagination, lands on the pages of the book, and then flows into the reader’s experience through the written word.
We can only view history through the stained glass of time. History, even recent events, assumes a mythical quality when we attempt to record it. Even a documentary movie that shows events filmed by the news camera may not be portrayed as it was truly experienced. The facts are filtered through the photographer’s eye and the historian’s pen.
Any story set in prehistorical times is a fantasy.
- Historical eras are those where we have written records.
- Any story set in a society without written records must be considered a fantasy. Although mythology, conjecture, and theorizing abound, few scientific facts exist until an archeological expedition can investigate any artifacts and ruins they left behind. And even then, there will be a certain literary license to the archaeologist’s conclusions.
If you are setting your novel in a real-world city as it currently exists, make good use of Google Earth. Bookmark it now, even if you live in that town, as the maps you will generate will help you stay on track.
If you are writing a tale set in a fantasy or sci-fi setting, you are creating that world.
The first map of my world of Neveyah series was scribbled with a pencil on graph paper. Over time it evolved into a full-color relief map of the world as it exists in my mind.
I love maps. My own maps start out in a rudimentary form, just a way to keep my story straight. I use pencil and graph paper at this stage because:
- As the rough draft evolves, sometimes towns must be renamed.
- They may have to be moved to more logical places.
- Whole mountain ranges may have to be moved or reshaped so our characters encounter forests and savannas where they are supposed to be in the story.
What should go on a map? Truthfully, not a whole lot.
- Where your people are.
- Where the places they will go are in relation to their starting point (north, south, east, or west).
- Where the story ends.
Yep, that’s it unless you want to draw maps—my hobby. All you need for now is the jumping-off point and the essential places. When the mighty heroine leaves home with her trusty sword or phaser, she will always know where she is. She won’t inadvertently transport an entire town from the north to the south of that mountain range.
As your story evolves, you will add all the details as they occur to you and believe me—they will come. In the meantime, your map page will be ready and waiting for you to note the particulars. When you are spilling words, the details will emerge, and you will have towns, geological features, and names firmly in your mind.
What if you are only beginning to write your story? Why should you be worried about mapping it out now?
When traveling great distances, your characters may pass through villages on their way. Perhaps the environment will impede them, or better yet, create an obstacle that must be overcome. The map will grow and shrink as you add or delete places from it.
Suppose environmental or geographical obstacles are pertinent to the story. In that case, taking a moment to note their location on your map will be easy. This way, you won’t interrupt the momentum of your writing and won’t contradict yourself if your party must return the way they came.
If your work is sci-fi, consider making a map of where the action happens, even though no one will see it but you. It could be a pencil-drawn floor plan of a space station/ship or a line drawing of part of an alien world. I drew the floorplan of the inn, Billy’s Revenge, for my reference as most of the novel Billy Ninefingers takes place there.
Your map doesn’t have to be fancy. Use a pencil to easily update your map if something changes during revisions. You want to know:
- Where your people are.
- Where the places they will go are in relation to their starting point (north, south, east, or west)
- Where the story ends
- Names of places and their proper spelling
Maybe you feel you aren’t artistic but know you’ll want a nice map later. Your scribbled map will enable a map artist to provide you with a beautiful and accurate product. You will have a map that contains the information needed for readers to enjoy your book.
Credits and Attributions:
Map of Neveyah © 2012 Connie J. Jasperson all rights reserved.
Floorplan of Billy’s Revenge © Connie J. Jasperson all rights reserved.
 Wikipedia contributors, “Channeled Scablands,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Channeled_Scablands&oldid=963105167 (accessed June 4, 2023).