CREATING A MAP FOR YOUR FANTASY NOVEL

An ongoing trend for fiction and fantasy novels is having a map for the reader to follow along with, just after the title page in the book. It is also very helpful for the author and the development of their fictional world.

When I first started writing my young adult fantasy novel, MER, I was like “A map seems way too difficult.” But I REALLY wanted one. And despite my inhibitions, I dove in head first. Hell or high-water I was going to have a map for my book, even if it meant handing my two-year-old a paper and crayons, and calling the scribbles my map. (Hey that’s not such a bad idea! Hahaha!)

I’m going to talk a little about my experience with creating my map for MER, soon to be released in late December, along with other methods of either creating or obtaining your map. And don’t worry, you absolutely do not have to be Michelangelo to create a map. I am no artist, believe me! Here is a step-by-step how I created mine.

METHOD #1 HAND-DRAWN MAP (This is always the first step, even in the following methods)

ITEMS NEEDED:

*paper (duh)

*tracing paper or vellum

*pencil and eraser

*Markers, colored pencils, or crayons (I was only half-joking about the crayons. That is actually what I used to color my map.) 🙂

*Reference Maps (Atlas, globe, print-outs of real life maps, your favorite fantasy book with a map.)

How I started was by picking a continent (fantasy novels, for some reason, usually have one super continent as their world to start out.) My inspiration was Greece. Don’t ask me why. I think I just liked the way it looked and it was surrounded on three sides by water and islands (which I needed lots of.) 😀

greece map

Image courtesy of Kevin Anderson, Flickr Creative Commons

 

 

I started out with just a bunch of circles, squiggles, and lines. It looked terrible! (That’s the way it’s supposed to look at first.)

Once you’ve got something that you generally like as your footprint (the outline of the continent and maybe some general towns from you story etc…) then it is time to start adding lakes, castles, towns, villages, rivers, mountains, roads etc. Now this is where the tracing paper or vellum comes in. As you refer back to your story and start transferring landmarks to your map, you will need to make changes (more than likely, A LOT of them, LOL!) Like, “Wait! I need a castle here, and this river needs to move.” And instead if erasing your little heart out, place the tracing paper over your original drawing, copying what you like and changing what you don’t. This is tedious and, in my opinion, the least fun part. But the fun part is, as you do more and more drafts, your map will start to clean itself up and start to look more like a map!

Then after adding what towns, castles, and rivers that are in your story, you will need to start filling in the dead space, otherwise your map might look a little barren. Make a list of names that you might like for your landmarks.

I referred to George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire maps, and (not ever copying) took inspiration from his name styles, but putting in my own twist and keeping true to the theme of my story. I came up with some cool names like Castlebridge, Saltstone, Duskenford, Eve’s Port, Dawn’s Port, Fish Eye Lake, Frozen River, etc… Adding these extras is also super beneficial in the development of furthering your story (say you are doing a second book in the series.) You can refer back to your own map to see where your character’s journey might take them, (and not have to break from your writing to come up with the perfect name for that dumb river they have to cross!! Haha!)

Here is a list of Landmarks your map may have.

MAP LANDMARKS

  1. Castles
  2. Towns
  3. Villages
  4. Churches (I use very little religion in mine, so I have no marked churches.)
  5. Ruins
  6. Rivers
  7. Lakes
  8. Swamps
  9. Oceans
  10. Seas
  11. Roads
  12. Forests
  13. Mountains
  14. Bridges
  15. Ports
  16. Islands
  17. Compass

Don’t limit yourself to this list (as I’ve probably forgotten some things LOL!), but reach for the sky! This is your masterpiece, your creation, do with it what you want. There are no limits. This is fiction we are talking about here!

Once you’ve finished matching the map to your story, filling in dead space, and naming all of your landmarks, it’s time to color in your map. If you only want black and white (which will be one-dimensional) you probably won’t want to color it, but if you want color or even grey scale, you will want to, to help differentiate water from land, etc.

Now if you are an artist and feel that you have a masterpiece, by all means, use this as your map. I definitely couldn’t, Haha! You will just need to format it to size, according to your publishers guidelines, or have it formatted for you. There are many low-cost formatters out there on google. The one I used is April Martinez, mail@aprilgem.com. She formatted my book (and map image). Just e-mail an inquiry and she will send you back a list of prices.

METHOD #2 HAVE IT PROFESSIONALLY RENDERED

Now that you have your rough draft, you could always contact a Graphic Artist or Cartographer to have the drawing digitally and professionally rendered for you. This is what I did.

I scanned my wanna-be-map into my computer (if you don’t have a scanner go to Kinkos and get it put on a jump-drive or disk). I then sent it (along with a list of all of my towns, castles, rivers, mountains, etc..and their correct spellings) to my Graphic Designer/Artist friend, Juan, as a rough draft. From there he worked his magic and Wallah! A beautiful map! (Soooo glad I didn’t have to do that part. I’m techie-illiterate. LOL!) Find Juan C. Heinrich here on facebook http://www.facebook.com/jchstudio. There is also a guild of cartographers who use various software to create fictional maps for a commission. You can find them here http://www.cartographersguild.com/

And here it is again! Woo hoo! MER‘s Map of Merenia! I had no idea my book could have such an amazing map!

METHOD #3 DO IT YOURSELF DIGITALLY

Now I’m not going to pretend to know a lot about this, as I said earlier I’m computer illiterate when it comes to stuff like this. BUT I will tell you some software you may use if you would like to try it yourself.

You will still want to do METHOD #1 and create a hand-drawn draft of your map.

A. PHOTOSHOP/ MS PAINT

You can scan your map into Photoshop or Microsoft paint and digitally manipulate it to insert text (landmark names), do a cool watery effect, create mountains, city and castle symbols, etc… Here is a good blog post on doing your map via Photoshop http://www.brodt.dk/peter/maps.html.

B. SPECIALIST MAP-MAKING PROGRAMS

AutoREALM, which is a super cool software created by Fantasy and RPG geeks to create maps. (No offense, I am one of those too. Not the kind of geek that creates software, of course, but the kind that plays Final Fantasy and does ALL of the side quests.) Haha! Download AutoREALM for free here http://autorealm.sourceforge.net/

Now, after that information overload, let’s take a break and look at some well-known authors who used maps in their novels.It all started with the grandfather of fantasy maps/ fictional world development, Tolkien and his Lord of the Rings. This is the Map from The Hobbit, the prelude to the Lord of the Rings.

the map of the book the hobbit

A few other well known’s are…

George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire (HBO Series A Game of Thrones)

 

Robert Jordan’s A Wheel of Time. (One of my favorite series!)

C.S. Lewis’s The Chronicles of Narnia (LOVE!)

As an author or author-to-be of a fantasy series, you more than likely will have one of these in your home library. If you don’t,which I would find hard to believe :D, I strongly urge you to get one and study it and its usage of maps.

Thank you for reading about map creation with me today! I wish you lots of luck in your writing journeys. And don’t ever, ever give up! It can be overwhelming, especially if you are self-publishing, to put all of the pieces together by yourself. Just take a deep breath and keep on plugging on!

Please leave a comment if you have any other helpful information on map creation for your novel. Or even if you don’t I’d love to hear from you!

Please LIKE my book, MER on facebook here http://www.facebook.com/merbook1  to read cool snippets and get updated info on the book release!

Please follow me on twitter here http://www.twitter.com/JadeMPhillips

Thanks! And may the power of words be with you!

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Categories: Writing Tips | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 49 Comments

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49 thoughts on “CREATING A MAP FOR YOUR FANTASY NOVEL

  1. Very fancy! Currently I scribble on an A4 pad with crayons. And I’m not kidding about the crayons.

  2. Gabe

    Awesome article – I’m most of the way through my first fantasy novel, and its been about eight months, and I was searching the web for a map-making tool or system, and I guess I will end up just sketching it myself and skipping the cartographer part.

    One thing kind of disappointed me though… My book world is called Mer. Was, I should say. Good thing I didn’t find your story AFTER I finished. Anyways, thanks for the article, and I hope to read your book soon (after I finish the final WoT book!)

    • Im glad you liked the article. That’s quite a coincidence Gabe!As long as what you write isn’t better than what I write I totally don’t mind. Haha. No, really there is no rule book that says two books (or many for that matter,) can’t have similar scenarios and/or names and places. If that was the case, we wouldn’t have much of a selection of books! Just look at all of the vampire books out there, although different, I’m sure they have many similarities. And especially if it is something you’ve already written, as long as you’re comfortable with it and don’t think it will be too much of a conflict of interest. What is your book called by the way?

      • Gabe

        Its a working title – The Shepherd’s Son, hopefully the first of a series. It won’t be an issue to change anything at this point. I realize that I don’t mention it more than five times in my writing, and the map is in progress.

        I noticed you said it took you about nine months to “finish” your novel; is that daily writing or when-you-have-the-time writing? As a full-time college student, I’m realizing that getting ten hours a week to write is a rare thing.

      • I am in the same boat as you. I wrote it in a “when I have time” fashion. I own my own small business, and am the full time caregiver of my 2 kiddos (who are both under 5 and are home ALL the time!) Any scrap of writng time I find is precious. But I also would make sure I had at least 1-2 days a week where I scheduled myself free of work and a sitter for the kids. I would take advantage of those days and write all day long. It’s hard when you’re s busy bu makes it that much more rewarding when you pull through and finish! I wish yu the best of luck on your novel and feel free to holler if you have any questions. You can find my author page on facebook. I don’t have the link just with me but search Jade M. Phillips. Id be happy to help any time. Cheers!

      • Cody

        I just have to say… that attitude is so impressive and I can only strongly commend you for it (and it’s an idea that should be adopted)! I don’t think I’ve ever read or heard of someone like you there! Too many are controlling of names and concepts even if the name or concept derives from something else (which is usually the case for both names and concepts). That you would say you don’t mind that they have the same name (or abbreviation … or is it an acronym ? Not sure if you’re pronouncing it or not) is remarkable! This is still true even though it’s a coincidence; there are many who would have a problem with it. I dare say most would have a problem with it. But you don’t? If only more people and organisations were like you!

        Best of luck with your publishing (and success with your book[s]); I won’t be reading it and I only am interested in maps for not books (although I have plenty, mostly Tolkien [because I have the histories of Middle-earth] although of course I have The Chronicles of Narnia and a few others if not more than a few) but for a game I’m a long time designer (and programmer) for – with a very outdated map (that I did not draw). But I have a good friend who was at one point trying to get publishers to be interested in her books (but not fantasy based). Or put another way I have plenty of things to read (and always have, always will) but when I saw your attitude about the names I felt I needed to comment – and knowing that it’s difficult to be published I figure I would offer that luck too (especially given your wondrous attitude).

      • Well, thank you Cody! What generous words! It is very much appreciated and, in turn, there should be more people out there like you who take the time to offer support and kindess. Thank you!

      • Cody

        You’re quite welcome, Jade! It’s nothing but the truth, though. This is something I’ve written about before: intellectual property is abused (the copyright system in general is e.g. the case where until recently the Happy Birthday song was copyrighted!) and I do not even refer to patent trolls (who are even worse). The reality is the things we have are all from things evolving, whether technology or something else; in the case of fantasy you have the father Tolkien but then you have many people inspired by him (and also his biggest fan perhaps besides – and maybe only on equals – his son Christopher, being of course C.S. Lewis, both part of the Inklings group: and Lewis is of course the author of The Chronicles of Narnia as well as other series). But what would the elves, dwarves (or as Tolkien put it the historically correct plural is dwarrow[s?] but he thought it too archaic though still wishing he had used it[1]) and the other races we know and love today be without him? Maybe someone else would have made them but we can’t guarantee it. So which is it? Do we embrace what others have offered us in a respectable way, or do we try to make claims to something that we only partially created? Meanwhile you have a name and you’re not even trying to claim it! That shows great character!

        I personally feel it is important to express gratitude not only through words but by actions – and I do this. I will never ever take life for granted and that especially goes for lives not mine. Who would I be if I were to take another person for granted or to judge whether e.g. they should live or die? Many that do deserve death (define ‘deserve’) live long and vice versa but even the wise cannot foresee all ends (that’s somewhat of a reference to Gandalf but not exact words because my personal library is not the computer or server room). I’m not the one with the same name here but I still feel obligated to thank you for being the way you are.

        I really appreciate the kinds words (it’s something that is also more rare in this world, and I’m no stranger – although it was years ago – to mostly nastiness aimed at me because of ‘being different’) in return[2] (see also part about thanking others) but I felt obligated to thank you for (see part about not taking things and other people for granted) such a wonderful attitude. Things could always be worse and for me personally they have been. It’s true they could be better but that goes for everyone. There are many people who have things much worse than me and I will never forget that. Equally so, there are many things I don’t have that I wouldn’t want!

        That is where my mindset is and I really wish more would see it that way (but I realise that isn’t going to change anything which is all the more reason for my initial message)!

        Once again, best of luck to you not only in the writing department but everything else, as well! I would follow you on Facebook and/or Twitter just to see what comes of it but I don’t use Facebook or any social media; but maybe I’ll come across it at some time in the future (hope so even if I don’t read it!).

        [1] This is in the Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien as well as The Treason of Isengard (book VII of The History of Middle-earth, which is the book I’m currently reading the last part of).
        [2] The part about suggesting it’d be better if more people had my attitude as above makes it more significant (to me) and so I appreciate more.

  3. *Great* advice and nice article. I also make maps for my stuff through my process is a bit different. It’s always handy to see how others go about doing it. I actually have a moleskine which consists only of map ideas I have sketched out. It’s a super handy starting point for me.

  4. Pingback: A Few Writing Resources | Cerebrations of Mine

  5. Not to take away from the Cartographer’s guild but if you want to do some fantasy cartography on your own (and have the softward to do so) you should youtube search “zombie nirvana” and select the fantasy cartography option. Those online tutorials should give anyone a headstart on fantasy cartography.

    • No problem. All suggestions are welcome here! Thank you for your great addition to the conversation of map building, G.E. I’m sure your information will be truly helpful to those searching out ways to create their own map. I know I’m going to take a look into those tutorials. They are a fantastic way to learn! 😀

      • Sam

        Hi do you know anyone I could a tally hire to make me a couple of maps

        My novels tend towards war and fantasy//fiction and I’m horrible at drawing // not much better on a computer my attempts at maps have been dreadful

      • Hi Sam!I may have someone in mind. Go into my contacts page to get my email and send me a quick message. 🙂 We’ll try to arrange something.

  6. Reblogged this on merethewalther and commented:
    Awesome advice about creating a fantasy map!

  7. ender1978@gmail.com

    Excellent post

  8. Love the article. Thanks!

  9. Katherine Hayward

    Hi, I really liked your article. I’m in the process of finishing , and getting ready to self- publish my first novel . Do you have any further advice you could give me? Can you send me an email?

    • Congratulations Katherine! I think just FINISHING a novel is something worth patting yourself on the back for. Gosh there is so much to discuss and so much advice to give when it comes to self-publishing that it’s hard to know where to start. The one most important thing I can say is…no, make that the TWO most important things are to KEEP WRITING and NETWORKING (make friends) with other writers! SOME marketing is important, but don’t get wrapped up too tight in it and waste your time. What matters is that when you DO market yourself, you have MORE books for your fans to read when they’ve gobbled up the first. Sit back, relax, and WRITE. Also networking. Join a writers group, whether it be on Facebook, a Nano group, or locally. I think it’s very important because other writers are a wealth of knowledge as well as a support to you as you trudge through this fun–yet tough–journey of being a writer. I hope this helps a bit and I will continue to write blog posts as I further my writing journey and keep everyone updated on what I might find. 🙂

  10. Kipp

    This is really cool! I’m 13 and have big ambitions, like making maps for a book series I’m writing and I think I’ll refer to this a lot from now on because I’ve created A LOT of maps and none are exactly what I’ve wanted, but I think this’ll help with that portion a lot.

  11. Thank you so much for this fantastic tips and information. This was exactly what i was worrying about. I need a map for my book, but i have no clue about how to make one. But now i do. Thank you!

  12. Nina

    Thanks for this. I can’t draw to save my life, but I do it anyway. Your map landmarks actually showed me how many things I missed on my own map. 🙂

  13. Reblogged this on I was just thinking……. and commented:
    I need a map of my character’s ranch

  14. zolliespot

    What a terrific post. Thank you!

  15. Bailey G.

    Thanks for the help! I’m so close to finishing my first novel (Its taken me over a year, trying to juggle it with school as well.)
    I’ve always liked the idea of a map. I found it easier as I based it on Italy as you based your’s on Greece. And the software is also a help as I cannot afford to pay a cartographer (I’m only 12, and have no job….)

  16. Wߋw that was unusual. I јust wrote an incredibly long cοmment but after
    I clicked submit mmy comment didn’t appear. Grrrг… well I’m not writing all tɦat over again. Regardless, jusst wanted tto
    say great blog!

  17. Robin

    Hi! I’m a 17 years old girl currently working on several fantasy novels. I’m not sure whether or not they are all that good, but that’s besides my point. I find your post very helpful! I love to draw maps (though I’m far from succesful on doing that) and I’m most certainly going to make one for my stories 🙂

    Do you have any advice for me to guide me during the time I work on my stories? 🙂

    Thank you!

    ~ Robin

  18. Brychette

    I am actually trying to write my own story and this is very helpful for me 🙂 I am trying to write this fantasy world that even *I* don’t know all the mysteries that these characters hold, and I am their creator! They are very secretive things aren’t they? Well, just wanted to say thanks so much for the help 🙂

    • Daniel

      If you don’t mind. I’ll take that idea from you. I’m working on a big world for a series of books . But i don’t want to know hoe it ends yet.

  19. Kathryn Jenkins

    Reblogged this on Dragon Knight Chronicles.

  20. I’m almost done with my first draft and I’ve been working on a map. This post was a really big help, Thanks Jade!

  21. WE always hear a picture speaks a thousand words. But a cool looking map helps aid the visual process when reading a novel cool stuff. I can do it in my head but placing the map on a page is difficult

  22. foolishboy

    Amazing timing! I just spent most of my evening drawing out a map. The amazing thing is, once I had the map some vague idea I had been holding onto just fell into place and I proceeded to knock out 2000 words of really solid Material.
    note I’m exhausted and about to go to bed and I looked at my phone to set my alarm and saw your blog entry. 🙂

  23. Pingback: On the Creation of Things | Rather Roundabout

  24. Spidey9

    Thanks this is a great article and I was wondering if yu could give me some advice on creating a fantasy story. How to start a story or making the world more realistic. Great article though thanks

  25. Preston Helton

    Thank you, this article was AMAZINGLY helpful. I’ll be sure to recommend it to anyone wanting to make a map!

  26. Evelien Van Puymbroeck

    Lovely article! This is exactly what I needed to make a map for our fantasy rpg. Thank you 😀

  27. Pingback: Landkarten in Fantasy | Katrin Ils

  28. Reblogged this on Emma's Blog.

  29. Pingback: Draw/Create Maps for Lands, Cities, & Worlds |

  30. Thank you so much ❤

  31. Lucas

    A few extra pointers;

    Do not plaster mountains where ever you want. Mountains form in various regions for a reason: that reason is tectonic plates. Unless a mountain is magically generated (which is acceptable), don’t drop mountain ranges all over the place because it’s ‘where you want them’.

    Also, rivers run downhill, and from mountains. Oceans and seas do not feed rivers. I see too many aspiring map-makers and authors make these mistakes. Take a brief, five-minute look at how geography affects certain regions. I frequently see the same mistakes made with deserts.

  32. Thanks for that. I’m currently trying to improve my map for my current series. I self-published it with a rubbish map, but I now have a publisher and want to improve it. Your blog has helped me no end.

  33. I created a map myself for my fantasy novel, just drew it and plastered it on cardboard (for longevity). Now, halfway through the book, I have a friend who is willing to draw me the map professionally for free! It’s really awesome, and I’m super excited to see how it turns out. Hopefully the book will be just as good.

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