Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Mapmaking for fantasy worlds

Most books in the fantasy genre have maps at the front.  Lord of the Rings is the obvious example.  Many people have seen a map of Middle Earth at some point or another.  If there isn't a map in a fantasy book, it can actually upset the reader greatly.

The thing about fantasy books is that they are generally set in a world of the writer's imagination.  Most of the time those worlds are epic playgrounds spread throughout kingdom, mountain ranges, forests, continents and exotic cities.  The writer can see these places in his/her imagination, but the reader can get a little lost with "They went to the forest, then climbed a mountain west of there, then went to the caves to the north, and then along the windy river to the city in the south."

So it really helps the reader if a map is provided.  That way the reader can visualize what's going on as they read.  In well developed worlds, there are usually a number of maps.  Some of them will center in on countries or even detailed city maps.

How the writer goes about making the maps can vary.  I write fantasy novels, but I'm terrible at drawing.  I'd love to eventually pay someone for professional looking maps, but right now my children need food.  I've tried telling them to stop eating, but my wife says that's a very bad thing.  *sigh*  So I have to draw the maps myself.

Here is the "world map" that I've drawn.  It's not actually the entire world, rather just the northern continent.  However, there's enough space here to fit numerous series of books.

Now the first thing you might notice is that the writing is amazing!  Yeah, that's not my handwriting.  After I was done drawing everything by hand, I scanned it into the computer and used the free image editing software called GIMP http://www.gimp.org/ to erase my terrible handwriting and add in the words with a much nicer font.

It was difficult trying to figure out the different symbols.  My first couple of versions didn't look anything like this.  You couldn't tell where a country started and where a river ended.  I looked at numerous other maps to see how they had done it and then improvised with a hodge-podge of different styles.  The important thing is that it's fairly easy to tell what's what.

You may notice that there are very few cities named.  I honestly don't know what cities are where in most cases.  I haven't made them up.  The first part I made up was the Kingdom of Paruth.  It was a setting for the original book I was going to write with a character named Calren.   After writing the first chapter of that story, I had him meet Pelya, a female soldier of the Blue Wyverns mercenaries.  Then I wrote her biography and had her start out in the city of Dralin.  I placed the Blue Wyverns in the Kingdom of Deller.  That's when I drew the map of those kingdoms.  It looked quite a bit different at the time.  I actually wrote about 4 chapters of Pelya's story only to realize that it was more like 4 books worth, so I stopped writing for a few years and did other things.

When I came back to writing, I couldn't find what I had already written, which infuriated me to no end.  I've since found it, but I think that perhaps it was a good thing that allowed me to start with a fresh slate.  I decided to start with an image I had in my head.  It was of a man standing in a mountain valley headed home.  That book, I finished.  It's called Rojuun.  I've since turned it into a trilogy called the Willden Trilogy.

The problem was that I hadn't conceived of that part of the map, so I had to draw it.  Then I came up with the kingdoms of Mayncal and Brindlyn as well as the Iynath Empire.  Well, I hadn't conceived of those either.  So they were placed to the east of the original maps.  The Iynath Empire is mostly desert.  I was raised in the Mojave Desert and found myself amazed at how everything west of the Sierra Nevadas was lush and green while everything to the east was dry and largely barren.  That's probably where I got the inspiration for that sort of climate set up.

The Willden Trilogy wasn't named right away.  I honestly didn't know what to name it by the time I was done with the second book.  For lack of anything better, I decided to name it for the Willden Forest.  All three of the books spend at least some of the story in that forest, so it made sense.  I used GIMP to chop out that part of the map and placed it in the books so that the reader could see better where the companions were traveling.

My next trilogy will be the story of Pelya and will be set in the city of Dralin.  Since the Willden Trilogy sounded really good, I decided that I would go with a running theme and title all of my trilogies based on their location.  So the next trilogy will be the Dralin Trilogy.  I haven't made a map of that city yet.  I plan on writing the first book and making up the locations as I go.  When I publish the book, I hope to have a map of the city in it then. :)


Mickey Burdick said...

Good post - I'm currently working on something that is part alternate history, part western, and part fantasy, so I'm using a hybrid North America for my setting. Going in, I spent a little time making a map, but MAN, I wish I had spent more time. It would have saved me all sorts of heartbreak down the line if I would have thought it through a bit more. I think a good map is important, not even for the reader, but for the writer. For me at least. It helps to focus me, and I can really visualize the journey my characters are taking.
Next time, I'm definitely going to take a bit more time with it, and post it right above my desk as I work.

John H. Carroll said...

Thanks for the comment Mickey. :) It really does help with writing. I've had to refer to mine quite a few times to figure out where the heck the characters are.
I think a lot of writers base their maps off of what they know. It's amazing how many look like North America. *grin*

Pamela said...

I know this is an older post but this is a topic that's been weighing on my mind as I contemplate releasing the fantasy novel I wrote about a year ago. I'm not an artist either and I'm terrified of doing it on my own. Bookmarking this for later for inspiration!

John H. Carroll said...

Hi Pamela,

I try to make it so that most of my posts about writing remain relevant no matter how old they are.

Mapmaking is kinda fun, but I'm just not an artist. I recommend the Cartographer's Guild forums for advice when you do get to making your maps. They're extremely helpful there.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the great advice I'm working on a trilogy of faeiry stories based in Mid Wales UK, there are some weird and wonderful place names here which I will probably use and I definitely need a map for these books.
I also loved The Emo Bunny that should, and left a review for you on Amazon, keep up the great work...

Anonymous said...

Hi baarbaarathesheep,

You are very welcome. :) Your trilogy sounds fascinating. I love faeiries and picture living in a castle in the forest with a stream by the bed and faeries flitting about.

My wife says I get the side of the bed next to the stream. ;)

Thank you so much for the review. The emo bunnies like you very much. :)

All my best,


Anonymous said...

I'm in the middle of designing the map for my fantasy novel, Shadows in the Stone. I have the basic structure and many names (including Wyvern, lol) already plotted. When I search for names, I whip out the map book for Nova Scotia and scan through the locations. I often find something that works.

I did what you did: draw the outline, scan it and then enter the names with the computer. Power Point is a great way to do this.

I'd like to get a professional to do mine, too, but I have the same problem you have: my kids want to eat.

I have the sketch of my map on the wall behind my lap top, so I can refer to it often. I dream of having a large one 4 feet by 4 feet someday.

I think you're right about readers being ticked off when there's no map. Unfortunately even if I had it ready when I released the Kindle version last month, I didn't know how to insert it.

Have you included a map with an ebook? Is it easy to do?

Thanks for the post. I don't see a lot of discussion on creating fantasy maps on the web.

John H. Carroll said...

Hi dianetibert,

I love the name of the book and the method for choosing names for your locations.

As far as inserting the map, it's really easy. I recommend scanning it to the computer as a .png file, you get better resolution that way.

After that, it's pretty easy to insert into the book. If you're using MS Word, you go to the 'insert' tab, insert a picture and then select your map. You should have an option to insert an image regardless of what program your book is in.

One other thing is to go to picture tools and look for 'format'. There you can compress the picture to web page size, which is 96dpi. This will make your file size more manageable.

Let me know if that helps. :)


Ryan S. Fortney said...

Aha! You drew that yourself?! That's really awesome! I know if I tried that it'd probably look like math class notebook scribblings.

John H. Carroll said...

Yeah. I'm really not all that good at it, but managed to do better than I expected.

I just redid them last week and they look even better. I'll do a blog post on that soon. :D

Chris Andrews said...

You draw your maps yourself?


And crap.

Here I was hoping for a magical program that would do it all for me. ;-)

John H. Carroll said...

Actually, there is, Chris! It's called Campaign Cartographer, and it's highly respected for building maps. There's also a large community to help you. :)