Novel Mondays: The Fantasy Map

13 May

A very basic rough draft of my new continent.

Along with doing lots of extra world building for my April NaNo Novel, I’ve also been designing  a map to go along with it.

One of my biggest pet peeves is opening a fantasy book and finding it lacking in the map department. Being a visual kind of person, maps help me situate myself in this new, unusual world, and without a map I feel lost in the story. In workshops in university, I would often get feedback from people saying they were confused about where they were in my fantasy land. There are only so many times you can say “south of X” and “west of Y” before realizing you need a map people can reference when they forget you already mentioned directions.

People favor different ways of making maps. Back in the day, I used to doodle in a notebook when I was supposed to be taking notes in science class. I then moved on to Microsoft Paint to color-code everything–really high-tech here, folks. A few years ago, I found AutoRealm, a program specifically designed to suit your map-making needs. It took me a bit of practice to really get it right, and I’m still discovering different things I can do–but for my purposes, it’s a great program. (Here’s a handy AutoRealm Tutorial if you’re interested in using it!)

Auto Realm lets you make a jagged coastline, places text for countries and major cities, and provides markers for various landmarks–forests, mountains, dunes, towns, cities, etc. It has a lot of features, and though the product might not turn out as pretty as something made in Photoshop, for those of us who are artistically challenged it can make maps look like masterpieces.

When designing my maps, I usually have an idea about how many countries there are as well as where they’re located in relation to each other. That said, shape of the map and countries tends to be random. I just let AutoRealm’s fractal polyline go wherever it wants. Then I divide the shape into countries, usually using natural barriers like mountains, rivers, deserts, forests, and the like. Natural barriers have always made more sense to me, but there’s an option to draw a line down the middle of a field, too.

I almost always focus on the “big” map with different countries first. Then I head into the “little” maps–one each of the main countries involved in the story, or, in this case, a city map (which I haven’t started yet!).

Maps can be handy, too, for writers trying to make some details more realistic. For instance, your main character is going on a journey to a town on the other side of the country. Once you figure out how far away that is, you can find out how long it will take him by foot, horse, airplane, magic carpet, and phoenix if you’d like. Most readers probably won’t notice tiny details like this, but getting them right certainly gives me peace of mind.

What do you think about maps–a must-have, useful, or unnecessary? What do you use to create your maps? Have any maps you’d like to share? I’d love to see them!


8 Responses to “Novel Mondays: The Fantasy Map”

  1. C.B. McCullough May 13, 2013 at 4:31 pm #

    I find a map necessary for my own reference while writing. I opted not to include it with my first fantasy novel release, but maybe one will find its way into the book in the future. Cool post!

    • inkhearted May 14, 2013 at 1:22 am #

      I definitely recommend including one! I love seeing them. Like you said, great for referencing yourself as well.

  2. Creative Mysteries May 13, 2013 at 7:54 pm #

    That map is too cool! I haven’t read too many fantasy novels but the creation process is what really impresses me. Maps of the new world, unique handwriting, timelines, it’s all so fascinating.

    Well done!

    • inkhearted May 14, 2013 at 1:21 am #

      Thanks!! I love maps, too. I think they could be useful in non-fantasy books too if you’ve made up a city or something that people might want to reference. I like seeing them in all types of books that I read, but they’re definitely most prevalent in fantasy.

  3. Codes May 14, 2013 at 9:10 pm #

    I always like one while reading, just a desire to learn about a new place and needing to know where everything is located. A map has been vital in my own writing, as well, since it helps with visualizing where all the characters are at any one moment and ensuring logical character movements (in terms of travel).

  4. atoasttodragons May 20, 2013 at 5:30 pm #

    I always liked the maps in fantasy books, but I’ve noticed things have changed with the ebook; it’s more of a pain to reference back to the map.

    • inkhearted May 20, 2013 at 9:23 pm #

      A very good point! I’m not a huge fan of e-books myself, and I hadn’t realized that that is partially why. No easy way to flip back. Yet another pro for real books, in my opinion. =D


  1. Worldbuilding Day 5: The Map | More Than One Page - January 7, 2014

    […] ever shared this map with you, though some of you might remember the map from my April NaNo that I wrote about a while ago. I’ve been using AutoRealm to create maps, which is an excellent […]

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