How to create a map of your fantasy world

You know you’re reading a fantasy book when the first two (or sometimes multiple) pages are of maps of the world. These help give your reader a visual context (and help remind them where places are in relation to others).

Maps aren’t essential for writing a fantasy book, but I’ve always found having one (however rudimentary) helps give me some kind of focus for the story. You don’t need to have lots of detail – maybe it’s just a map of a local area where your character’s story starts, or maybe it’s a world map with key areas located.

There are lots of map building programs out there (google will give you many). However, I’ve always found those overwhelming to begin with – my preference will always be for a clean piece of paper, a load of coloured pens, and start with a rough outline of the physical world. Then I start filling it in, drawing on my research of different geographies to indicate where certain cities might be placed or natural features might go. I actually use this as part of my initial “brainstorming” session – drawing out an initial map helps me create places that I can then go and fill in the backstory for later down the line.

Questions to ask yourself

When you’re creating your map, there can be lots of things to think about. Here are some starter-for-10 questions to ask yourself when you’re drawing out the map of your world:

  • Is your weather hot in your world, which has created a desert? Maybe it’s from a meddling god?
  • Do humans live in your world, in somewhere they shouldn’t? How can they live in those areas? Do they have to change them to survive?
  • Does the magic in your world help sustain life? Maybe it’s influenced the plants or animals in a particular way?
  • Where are the urban areas? Are they close to a particular area? Why?
  • How do people travel in this world – over ground, through flight, some other means? How does this impact the layout of your world?
  • Where does your population grow food? Why is it in that area? Is it near a river or a delta, or water source?

Think about the why

When making a map, come back to the question of why. Why is this land structured the way it is? Why are the people living in a particular area? The why of your land will help you make a map that is realistic and believable for your reader.

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