They are such a nice addition to a fantasy book. Especially if the realm is large or completely fabricated from the author’s head.
But do you need a map?
Hold on, before you start shouting at me that you’re not a cartographer or even an artist… let me explain. No, you do not need to include a professional-looking map in the published final version of your book. Maps are a nice-to-have thing that some readers love, but aren’t absolutely necessary. (I like maps in books, but… confession time… I almost never look at them while I’m reading a book… and rarely look at them when I’m done. It’s usually a thing I notice when I open the book, stare at for a moment, and then move past).
But I’m not talking about that map. That’s something you can figure out when you get closer to your publication date. I’m talking about a map just for you. Something to help you as you write your story so that you can keep directions consistent and know where things are and roughly how far apart they are as you write. This will help you out a lot when you get to the editing phase of your book, because you won’t have accidentally made some landmark 200 miles away and then managed to get your on-foot hero to that landmark in a day or two. You don’t need to be an artist, and you don’t need any fancy computer program. A piece of paper and a pen will be fine (that’s how most of my maps start out).
When I started writing King’s Warrior, I had a very basic map that I drew up with a pen. A friend took that map and made a larger version for me with color and some terrain, and eventually my husband turned it into the map inside the book today.
But that is not how it started! Now that I’m working on Turrim Archive, I currently have a very basic map, that we will eventually turn into something beautiful. Turrim Archive is a medium sized world, taking place on a single small continent and none of the rest of the world is necessary for the story. The people on this continent have no knowledge of any other land-masses or people groups on their world.
As you can… not see very well because of the whole picture-of-a-picture thing… what I have here is a basic shape of the continent, with rather a lot of things drawn all over it in various colors so that I can keep things straight. I added a scale to it so that I knew what distance existed between points. Now, this map has come together slowly over the course of five books. I did not have everything on here when I started. I knew the basic country borders, and a few towns and a landmark, but much of this map got filled in as I wrote and as the characters went on their adventures.
Even for a shorter story, I’ll pull out a piece of paper and jot down a quick map of where things are. For example, in my fae story that I recently sent out to beta readers, I drew this:
Which should go to demonstrate that this whole map-making thing REALLY doesn’t require any skill or artistic talent. Or significant amounts of time. But I knew I wanted an island with a forest in the center (and I changed my mind after the first attempt and decided to make the forest bigger, hence the scribbly bits on the western side) with a stream running through it and down into the village. I wanted Echo’s house to be up on a the end of a peninsula and for the village to be down near the southern shore. So, in order to keep all the directions and distances straight in my head, I sketched out this truly horrible diagram that I would generally never show to anyone, but am making an exception here to prove a point and because I love you. *grin* The world of this story is small, but I still had to do a little world building.
So let’s take a closer look at the world I introduced you to yesterday, shall we? I have a few maps to show you a little bit more how a world can start out small and grow as you write the story.
Here we have the tiny village of Wolford Downs. As you can see, there’s not a lot there, just a little village with roads/traffic coming in from the four cardinal points on the map, and they’re surrounded by forest. My husband created this map when he was running a D&D game for us and some friends. This provided the “home base” location for our adventures.
Here we have the same town, Wolford Downs, but it has grown a bit. This was for a second game we played, that took place about 20-30 years after our first game. The town has grown a bit, the forest has been tamed, walls have been built, and this place is becoming more than a simple village. (You can even use maps to help you create a bit of history for your world, though you definitely don’t have to!)
Now we zoom out quite a ways and we see the continent on which Wolford Downs is located. (For context, it is about a 2-days’ walk west of the dot called “Eldoran” on the eastern shore).
As you can see, this map is not completely fleshed out, but there are some regions/cities named, a few places where terrain has been set, and plenty of space to take your characters on adventures. You can also see by the scale that this is not a tiny little continent.
And if you want to go to the global scale…
One of the goals with Revelod has been to create a “world sized” realm, with large continents full of history and plenty of space to write stories in. As you can see, this map still needs a lot of things filled in. But that’s okay. It doesn’t have to be super detailed in order to get started on writing. The details can come later.
So much of your map is going to depend on the story you want to tell. What size world do you want for your story? How are people getting around? Clearly, people in Revelod can’t just hop in a canoe if they want to get from the Eldoran Commonwealth over to Seyberron or the Tundaran Empire. So what kind of technology is available? What is the main method of transportation? Are there continents/countries/regions in your world that do not come into your story? Do you have an idea of why they don’t or what keeps them from being important in your story?
You’re also going to want to think about where on the planet your countries are with regards to the poles and the hemisphere so that you know how the seasons work and what the weather will be like throughout your story.
Do you enjoy maps in books? As a reader, do you study maps when you find them in books, referring to them as you read, or are you more like me, appreciating them but not using them as much? As an author, have you created maps for your stories? Why or why not? If you are a writer who has been hesitating on the whole map-drawing thing, I hope that this post has helped make it seem far less daunting!
Make sure to come back tomorrow, because we will be talking about naming things in our worlds and what we should consider when we start thinking about what to call all the things in our fantasy realm.