Mapping Your Fantasy World

February 3, 2009 in Best Of, Fantasy, Novel, On Writing by pacejmiller

A sample fantasy map from Fantasy Mapmaking 101 (I can't do anything this good)

Sample fantasy world map from Fantasy Mapmaking 101 (I certainly can't do anything nearly as good)

Why map your fantasy world?

A common theme for fantasy novels on shelves these days is a map of the fantasy world inside the front cover.  To be honest, as a reader, I don’t usually give them more than a cursory glance.  But as a writer, I find such maps can be quite useful.

A good map of your fantasy world can help you visualise it a lot better when you are writing, especially if your fantasty world is vast or your story includes a lot of moving around from place to place (as mine does).  It can also assist you in defining your world and plot.  Where does a particular character come from?  Where are the battles fought?  What type of terrain do the heroes have to overcome?

It might not be for everyone, but I found creating a map for my fantasy world very fun, and it was satisfying when it was finished.

Ways to create fantasy world maps

There are several ways to create a map of your fantasy world.

By hand

If you believe your drawing skills are up to it, you can always give it a shot by hand.  This website named Fantasy Mapmaking 101 provides a crash course to fantasy cartography.

By hand and computer

People skilled with both hand-drawings and computers can certainly make visually appealing maps.  This website called Peter’s Guide to Map Creation teaches you how to do that (note: the computer part is limited to Photoshop only).

By computer

If you have a drawing program like Photoshop or even something as simple as Microsoft Paint, you can try and draw your map that way.  Personally I found it insanely hard to do from scratch.

By specialist map-drawing programs

My personal recommendation.  With my utterly shithouse artistic ability (that has not improved since the sixth grade), any hand-drawn maps of my fantasy world that I attempted were simply pathetic.  With my slightly better Microsoft Paint skills (I don’t have or know to use Photoshop), my computer-drawn maps were not much better.

Fortunately for me, there are some specialist map-drawing programs out there, thanks largely to RPG game geeks.

The most popular one I know of is called AutoREALM (designed for RPG game maps) – can be downloaded for free here.  It takes a little bit of time getting used to, but the link I provided has some great tutorials to get you on your way.  It has special tools to help you create maps that look just the ones inside book covers or in RPG games.  It’s really easy once you get the hang of it.  If you feel like it, you can even take things a step further with this program and start doing maps of towns or floorplans of buildings.

Once the map is done, you can sit back and enjoy the beauty of it.  Even if you don’t end up using it, it’s still a pretty cool feeling to know you just created a map of your fantasy world.