Preparing a physical map is the first step in any world building process. When you sketch your world out in detail, it makes your characters’ journey and the challenges they’ll face easier for you to formulate.
Some of my favorite authors implemented this method themselves, and it wasn’t just for show. Tolkien was the master of world building, and often used his own maps as references when writing the Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Knowing where his characters were headed was a quick way to formulate the next plot point. When the Fellowship took the paths through Moria, they didn’t know what beast lay hidden in the shadows or sleeping under the waters. But Tolkien did!
Drawing out detailed maps are a fantastic way to beat writer’s block before it strikes. If we draw the land, scale the terrain, and even designate flora and fauna across the map, it will be a reliable reference tool come plot structuring time.
So how, then, do you do it? Where do you begin?
Most folks like to use apps or computer programs to map out their new terrains. Some programs have multiple tools and features that make cartography a breeze. In the new book I’m releasing, Building Your Fantasy World, it includes multiple programs you can use to help create a digital map.
However, there are advantages to having a physical map beside you on your writing journey. In my experience, having a physical map is the perfect anchor while I outline chapters and craft the storyline. The map reminds me of each chapter’s goal and of my characters’ personal goals as well. While my characters’ journey continues, I can plot their travels, their experiences, as reference points on my map. Having that information visualized focuses my writing process.
Creating a physical map helps you determine the world you’re creating with clarity. Knowing boundaries of colonies and climates will structure your world and your storyline. So add details! Include the crystal mountains, cloud cities, galaxy caverns, or whatever else, in detail. In each region, draw trees, floating cliffs, dragons, mermaids, nymphs, wisps- really whatever flora and fauna you want native to that terrain. The more specifics you have, the more your world comes to life. This vibrant tool will be a wonderful source of inspiration come writing time!
But let’s say you really don’t have any idea what your world will look like yet. Let’s say all you do have so far are a few main characters living their lives in one particular city. Can you still create a map? Absolutely!
Simply start with what you do have. Map out what you’re familiar with, even if it means jotting down notes as you scale out this one little city. Start small, and work your way out from there. Don’t force the process, let inspiration come naturally.
It’s normal for writers to flesh out a few terrains and then leave the rest of their map blank. This allows room for the plot itself to dictate the terrain as the story unfolds. It creates a symbiotic relationship between plot and map. Still, some authors are absolutely certain of their worlds, their planets, and their systems. So they like to have the maps completely fleshed-out before they even begin their novel. Whichever form your craft takes, feel comfortable with your process. Remember that creating a physical map is a vital tool for your story. So take your time and give map crafting the dedicated attention it deserves.
What if you create your map, but realize halfway through your story that you want to change the location of a specific realm or adjust a particular climate? Is it too late by this time?
Your tools are there to work for you. You are the master of your story, your map, your world. You can change whatever you wish, at any time. Just keep regular, detailed notes of what you’ve changed, as readers’ fresh eyes will catch inconsistencies much quicker than yours will. So if you decide to make a climate change to an already founded terrain, check that all chapters it’s mentioned in are updated as well.
Another excellent world building genius and map master is fantasy series author Brandon Sanderson. If you need a little map-crafting inspiration, then I’d suggest checking out Brandon Sanderson’s best-selling novels the Mistborn Trilogy, the Stormlight Archive series, Words of Radiance, and more. His maps, located at the front and back pages of his novels, are intricate, colorful, and fascinating- just like his novels. Brandon is, much like Tolkien was, a genius of the world building arts.
So what are those two reliable methods you can use to craft out your map? What is the step by step process to starting your own fantasy map? How do you properly measure distance and add details that bring your map to life? And what masterful digital programs are available to writers eager to become map crafters?
My newly released eBook answers all these questions plus more!:
This eBook dives into the art of cartography and includes the step by step process to creating a physical or digital map for your fantasy world. It discusses the various forms of map building and how it can improve your writing process as well. This book will also discuss topics such as:
- Government and rulership
- Races and cultures
- Languages and your fantasy race
- Creatures and beasts
And more, all dedicated to helping you learn all you need to know about crafting your fantasy world.
So don’t wait a second longer for this power-house read!: