author, creative writing, writing

World Building: Creating Maps

Good morning star gazers and explorers. I hope you’ve had a good week.

This week I was feeling a little downhearted at times, so I took a look back at some of my old writing. It’s helpful to see how far I’ve come at times like this. As I looked back, I found an old fantasy story I’d written several years ago. It includes pages of my original notes and ideas and a map I drew of the world. As my more recent works have taken place in non-fictional, modern cities I’ve not had to do this for a while. But it got me thinking back to how much I enjoyed creating a map for my world, and so I want to blog about it.

In addition to some of my other world building blogs, I’m going to post a few tips and thoughts that helped me when I drew my map. I hope it’ll help others looking to do the same.

1. Look at other fantasy maps
Fantasy maps are not uncommon, and many fantasy novels include a printed map within the cover of their book. It can be really helpful to look at other fantasy/fictional maps to get an idea of what’s included and how it helps you to understand the world within the story. Some famous examples include maps from The Lord of the Rings and A Song of Ice and Fire. These can be found online and are great fun to explore and analyse.
Image source

2. Look at real maps
Fantasy maps are great because they show you how imagination allows you to push boundaries and create your own rules. However, real maps can be just as insightful when it comes to mapping out your fictional world. Real maps are available in abundance online, but it can be even more fun to pick out a physical map or atlas. Take a look at the scale used, the details and the way certain areas are represented. It can really give you a glimpse into how maps are made and why they show certain things but not others.

3. Consider your maps purpose
Does your map have a purpose in the story? It could be that simply, your map is for you. Your map is there so that you can write your characters’ adventures in a way that makes sense, and follows rules and guidelines. Or perhaps you’ve every intention to allow your readers a glimpse of the map too. Are your characters on a journey? Is it a map of their town/city, or of a strange and mysterious land? Your map might actually be a part of your story, with characters actively using it to find their way. In this case, you may find it even more important to consider intricate details.

4. Choose your materials
How do you plan to draw your map? I’m not much of an artist (I mean, not at all, I can’t even draw a stick man)! Despite this I still chose to put pen to paper to draw an outline of my world and get an idea of how it worked and where everything fit in relation to other places. Perhaps pen and paper is your preferred method. For those of you who are more artistic you may choose to sketch out a detailed map on a large sheet of paper, with colour and depth. Or perhaps you’r better suited to designing your map with online computer programs, taking the pressure away from drawing and allowing yourself to freedom move things around. Choose what works best for you.

5. Things to consider
These are just a couple more things to consider. For example you can draw a compass in the top corner of your map. This allows you to use accurate directions in your story, knowing where is north, where is south and which way travellers will need to go to reach their destination. Having a key can be a good way to mark information that won’t fit on the map itself or will make the map look untidy. And using place names that suit the location can add a real touch of personality to your map and your story.

Have you ever drawn a map for your world? What advice would you give?
I have two children’s fantasy stories in mind and if I ever get round to writing them I know I’ll need to draw up some maps, so your tips will be greatly appreciated! Comment below or message me any time.

Until then,
Keep writing,

I can be often be found on facebook, twitter or instagram, come find me!

20 thoughts on “World Building: Creating Maps”

  1. Maps have a special place in my heart since I was a kid. Eventually, I chose a field of study that has map-making as a significant part and compared to making a map of a fictional place, making a map of reality is relatively easy, as long as you have the data (in fact, 80% of the work is shuffling the data and the map itself is maybe 20%).
    I really like seeing maps in books as it gives me a better understanding of the setting, more so for me as a fantasy reader. Unfortunately, my talents when it comes to drawing are around zero and possibly negative when it comes to computer graphics. What I made for my own story was supposed to be a sketch but it’s quite an awful doodle. Still, I used it a lot for the parts when a character is traveling, to have some idea of the timeframe and distance.
    If I was to include a map in the to-be book, I’d probably have to hire someone who knows how to draw a fantasy map and hope that my doodles would be enough to work as source material.
    To conclude this wall of text, thank for another nice post!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you Tomas! I have zero drawing abilities too, don’t worry! Like you, my map sketch was only really suitable enough for me to make my story work. It certainly wouldn’t make its way into a book! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  2. If your drawing ability is limited, like mine and obviously many others, draw it in pencil first. That allows for easier changes or corrections as you go. Once you are reasonably satisfied, you can ink over in a darker color to make it more ‘permanent’.

    You can also draw maps of buildings (rooms inside, room layout, etc.) to make it easier to move people around inside them.

    Good post!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. This post was so helpful! I think I definitely need to draw a map of the little coastal town my WIP is set in. I watched a documentary once about how mapmaking actually shows bias and how you can tell a lot about the mapmaker. I wish I could remember what it was called! Great post.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Madeline! Thanks for the comment. Yes, it’s true! I did a whole section on this in Uni last year. Mapmakers tend to highlight areas they consider important and make them seem bigger than they really are. So powerful countries/area may come across larger than less powerful countries of the same size. It’s fascinating! So glad you enjoyed the post ❤

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Great advice, Meelie. I drew a map for my series just so I could work out where I’d placed everything. It was a poor effort as I also can’t draw anything better than a crappy looking stick figure 😅. Love the idea of children’s tales with maps. There’s something magical and old school about that.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hehe, for sure none of my drawn maps would make it into a book, but I do like using them for my own usage. I could picture your world perfectly when I read your books, so you obviously did a great job with your map 😀 x

      Liked by 1 person

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