Updated with more maps 29/01/18
Totally against type, this year I have actually managed to keep one of my New Year’s Resolutions (so far.) I know! I didn’t think that was something that really happened either, but here we are.
So this year I promised myself that I was going to try and take up my drawing again. This is something I haven’t done since I was in secondary school, which is far longer than the ten years ago I would like to remember it being! I’ve regretted stopping for a long time, and I’ll admit that starting this blog has left me often wishing that I could draw something to illustrate my Ghosts & Gowns series, or just share some world-building ideas through pictures. And I always say that if you keep on thinking ‘I wish I could take that up-‘ then you owe it to yourself to at least give it a try!
Maps have been a part of the fantasy from even before Tolkien, and it’s easy to see why. They give a sense of the scale of a world the author has built, they give a sense of purpose and direction for the adventure – you can see where the started off from, where they are going and how far (literally) they’ve come. They’re also a great way to introduce little Easter Eggs and teasers for other stories; there was no reason for Our Heroes to travel to the Ice Palace in the Northern Wastes, but you can see it on the map and therefore you can wonder what that place must be like. Who lives there? Will we get to see it in another book?
As writers, I think that drawing maps for your story is incredibly helpful because doing so forces you to define your world and think about its logistics. How far is Point B from Point A and therefore how long is it going to take to travel? Is Country X to the north or the east of Country Y? Is the capital city surrounded by mountains, or a lake or is it on the sea? It also forces you to be consistent; if the map says that your city is on the coast, then we’re really going to notice if the story says it’s surrounded by mountains and no water in sight.
Now, you might think that this isn’t going to affect your story in any real way, but it comes into play more than you think.
For example, what’s the easiest way for people to travel? If people can’t simply walk to where they need to go then chances are that there are a lot of insular communities because people won’t bother. In which case your communities all need to have a distinct feel from each other. If travel is really easy and quick then there’d be a lot more intermixing between communities, so fewer variations. But then you can’t have a plot-point that rests on people not knowing what’s going on in another community because they surely would simply go and check?
To this end, I cannot recommend Jonathan Robert’s post on ‘Worldbuilding By Map’ highly enough. It is a great, practical guide to drawing a map and various things you’ll need to think about, from dividing up your countries, to where to put your towns and cities, via mountains, rivers and coastlines. I found it just so, so helpful, and I hope that you’ll get something out of it too.
For those who, like me, are unsure of their artistic talents in general, I also recommend ‘How to Draw Fantasy Art and RPG Maps: Step by Step Cartography for Gamers and Fans’ by Jared Blando. It’s a great book, easy to use and full of inspiration. For every common feature of a fantasy map, he includes multiple variations to pick from, so you never feel that all your maps have to look the same. The book covers landscapes and landmarks, such as towns, or ancient ruins or magic portals (which I had not even considered could be marked on a map until it was suggested!) as well as heraldry customs, marking political allegiances and various lettering too. If you’re drawing maps for your stories at all, I definitely recommend checking this book out.
The impetus for taking up map-drawing may, I confess, seem a little silly. Mind you, I think a lot of what writers get up to can seem a little silly when you say it out loud!
Anyway, I have this idea of a character’s home, called Herle’s Howe for reasons we’ll get into in another post, which in every appearance is in a completely different location. One time it might be on the side of a mountain, and another it could be an island in the middle of the sea, and again it could be sitting in the middle of a swamp, or in a clearing in a forest. I currently envision that this could be something of a running gag throughout the story; no one knows why this house moves around constantly, and the character never ever provides an explanation for this. Since the character is so strange even for fairyland, I would like to experiment with various ways that he can be distinguished as decidedly weird for a world of magic.
The thing is, I’m not sure if it will work out, so by drawing little maps of possible surroundings for Herle’s Howe, I can see if there’s enough variety to make the changes really stand out and be interesting for the reader every time they encounter the house. If I can’t think of enough settings that feel like they would fit the character’s temperament, then I’ll abandon the idea, of course. That’s always the risk of an experiment. Still the idea’s currently still making me laugh a little!
When I’ve drawn some other options, I’ll add them to this post, but here is my first piece of drawn artwork that I have done in over 15 years!
Do you have any tips on drawing fantasy maps? Please feel free to share them int he comments below!
If you found this post interesting, let me know and do check out the rest of the series here. See you all next week!