Posted in Chronicles in Creation

So You Want To Draw A Map? Part 1

Welcome back everyone!

Guess what? We’re going to be talking about maps!

…Now that I think about it, the title may have given that away a little…



So… Why Are We Doing This?

So I’ve mentioned before that I’m not naturally artistic. Some people draw for pleasure and they produce really inspiring work, and I’m very envious of you people! I have at best a really functional style and the last time I had any formal technical training I was fifteen.

So… why set about drawing maps for my books?

Well, for one thing maps are very interesting and beautiful works of art! Even the most prosaic maps are a fun bird’s eye view on the world and especially historical or fantasy maps have some beautiful flourishes! They also tell you a lot about the people who drew those maps and what they thought of the rest of the world, and their place within it. (Note to self: do a post on this…)

But maps can be useful as well as beautiful!

Back in Uncharted TerritoryI talked a little about why I think maps-in-books are useful things. Sure, they are fun and cool for readers, who get more of a sense that your world is 3D and that things exist even when the story doesn’t go there.

But maps are absolutely fantastic tools for writers.

The advantage of drawing a map for writers is possibly not immediately obvious, but that just means it’s actually your secret weapon! In terms of world-design and -building, drawing a map of your world literally forces you to confront some of the weaker spots in your ideas, and – despite how much we all hate that at first – that’s always a good thing.

For example, if the country you are telling me about is described as being huge and prosperous and has a lot of allies and trading partners, and yet it only has one major city… Yeah, I have questions and they aren’t going to be fun ones. Alternatively, if the country is a very militarily aggressive one, but it hasn’t got a whole lot of fortifications and there isn’t a close and well-placed network of guard-houses, fortress, and assorted whatnots, that country is similarly going to give rise to some probing concerns.

It’s easy to forget about such details when you’re busy coming up with a fun story and cool characters; and that’s totally understandable because that’s what your audience is there for, after all. (See World-Building and Why It Really Does Matter for ‘The Holy Trinity of Narrative’ to discuss further.)

But if you want to make use of a larger world later then you definitely need to think about and, if you can, set up those elements as early as possible to avoid throwing your readers a googly. There’s nothing worse than being three books into a series and suddenly someone turns around and casually mentions something which is apparently intrinsic to the story’s society yet has never come up before and no one addresses this.

So as I delved more and more into various things I needed to think about for my own novels, I realised that drawing out a few maps was going to be vital in ironing out some weak spots. And as always, I will be sharing anything useful I learned with all of you lovely people.

Now, as always, this will not be a ‘How To Draw Your map’ kind of thing. If you want tips on how to draw mountains or sea-charts and things, then check out Uncharted Territory for my personal recommendations on people who’ve already produced some great guides on drawing maps and different stylistic options you can use. I’ve lent the book I talk about to several other people, and they have also found it to be helpful, so I’m sure you will too.

Nope, as always we’ll be looking at how to make choices in drawing you map; where do you put your island? What inspiration can you pull from? How do you know what to include from the start? What are you even making this map for anyway?

Map Effect
For better or worse, we all know this feeling, don’t deny it!

This page is a Masterpost (should that have be capitalised? Not sure…) for all things mapping related, for anyone who would like to come back and keep up to date without having to trek back through the rest of the series.

Next up, we’re going to be taking a close look at other people’s maps to see what we can learn from them, because as always, it’s worth taking a look at what works for other people before setting out to reinvent the wheel!

Prologue – Uncharted Territory – In which I try out drawing for the first time in forever, and recommend things that I found helpful.

Part 2 – Map Effect Sooo… Why are we drawing this again? Taking a look at Narnia, Westeros, Middle Earth and more!

Part 3 – A Kingdom for the Oak King – Tackling the hard parts first and working with Scotch Mist

Part 4 – No Map is An Island – Sometimes all you can do is keep drawing until you get it right…


Writer. Crafter. Nerd.

18 thoughts on “So You Want To Draw A Map? Part 1

    1. Thanks! I’m not very good at it, but I’m hoping that it will help me in my writing.

      I confess I usually wait to see if the map is going to be necessary to keep up with the story. I think they can be really interesting, which I’ll be talking about in Part 2, but they’re not a great indicator of the quality of the story at all!

      Liked by 1 person

  1. Great post and thank you. One of the many small sources of pleasure for me with respect to my Fantasy reading is the experience of opening the book for the 1st time and taking a look at the map of a new world. In addition to giving me a feel for the narrative to come – it does have the potential to represent as a work of art. The first thing that comes to mind are the fold out maps that came with my 1st 3 volume hardcover edition of “Lord Of The Rings”. The folds were a bit challenging and inconvenient but I never minded much because the maps were so aesthetically pleasing. I can still see that one when I close my eyes. Cheers, Brian

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Brian,

      Thanks, I’m glad you liked it! The next one up will be looking at a few of the really famous maps like that, so hopefully there’ll be a bit of nostalgia for you!
      I find them fascinating to see the style of maps used and what that says about the author’s vision for the story, not to mention having a chance to see if we’re going on a big long journey or a much smaller but more detailed one with secret doorways and things.
      Do you have any favourite fantasy maps that are more like floor-plans? I’ve been thinking about looking at those a bit more, but none spring easily to mind!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Thanks! Or city plans as well? Obvious I have Ankh-Morpork, but so many of my books are so tattered that even if it did come with a map once, it’s long gone by now! Curse my love of going through second-hand shops…

        Liked by 1 person

  2. A funny thought that occurred to me is that people who live in an area can become blase about a particular feature of the landscape even though it still has an effect on them.
    This may not be a good example but Jean Cocteau said the first time he saw the Parthenon he was on a bus that drove by it and he couldn’t understand why all the other passengers weren’t as excited about it as he was. Then he realized that, being locals, they saw the Parthenon every day and that since he lived in Paris he hardly even noticed the Eiffel Tower.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, or how people who live in London often never go to any of the landmarks of London, because they just live there and see it every day!
      It’s actually a thing in my writing with magic and magical creatures that the people who have lived in those areas for generations have just got used to them. It’s only when outsiders come in that things get weird…

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Maps intimidate me as a writer, but I love them as a reader. (These two things are probably related.) I never feel I can get my map “good enough”, but I guess the first thing is to draw a just-for-me version, and worry about the rest of it later.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Nicole,
      They intimidate the heck out of me too, but next post you’ll see me actually drawing a map of my own and hopefully a little of the scare-factor will be reduced!
      If it helps, C.S. Lewis’ map isn’t at all pretty, it’s just a functional aide-memoir and it’s not like the map in your book *has* to be hand-drawn by you personally! We can’t all be J.R.R. Tolkien after all!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Good point! I think I need to focus on the fact that my map will just be the first draft of the map. I wouldn’t expect anyone to read the first draft of the novel, so why should the map be any different? Hmm. This is a much better way of looking at it. Thanks, and I look forward to reading more in your blog series!

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Fantastic post! I definitely think that drawing an actual map out helps a great deal when it comes to world building (and I’ve also drawn on a map of our world if it’s basically set there- it just helps to get an idea of the layout as well)
    It also, in my opinion, is great for plotting, cos, you know, you can pretty lost in your own thoughts when it comes to having characters romping about the countryside- I find I need to root my world in something like a map or I can and will get carried away 😉
    I think you covered so many important world building issues that can turn up as well.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I find that drawing a map can really help me pull my ideas into order and see what’s there and what’s missing. When it’s all in my head or jotted down in little notes, it’s hard to keep everything straight and then you send people East to the city that was established earlier as being in the South, and everyone’s totally lost!

      Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s