Posted in Chronicles in Creation

So You Want To Draw A Map? – Part 4

No Map Is An Island

Sorry about the title; I tried, really I did, but I couldn’t resist!

Anyway, we begin this post with a moment of silence for the unexpected perils of a writer’s life; in this case that moment when you’ve been researching maps in your lunch-break, then something goes wrong and you call in the IT crowd. They come up and start minimising windows and there’s a brief moment of confusion because emblazoned across the screen all of a sudden is the word ‘MAPPORN’.

To be clear, as I hastened to explain to a colleague now laughing so hard he’s crying, Map Porn is a twitter account filled with – what else? – historical and fictional maps. There’s also a reddit site, but I don’t understand how to navigate it so you’ll have to check that out on your own if you’re interested.

This is like that time we were all explaining to our IT guys that ‘Bookshelf Porn’ was genuinely just a website full of pictures of especially nice looking bookcases, isn’t it? (Does anyone else remember Bookshelf Porn?)

Anyway, the result of this is that my Star Trek-critiquing buddy IT guy now thinks I may be too nerdy for him.

Writers: We wrote the book on weird. Literally.


First Things First…

So, why do I need to draw this map?

So in my last post, wherein I flailed around drawing a map for a king without a kingdom, I mentioned that sometimes the only way to draw the maps that you want is to start drawing and keep doing so until you reach something that looks right.

And in the spirit of that idea, I tried to think of something I am not very good at in drawing and combine that with something I didn’t have much of a pre-conceived image to work from. Sort of a ‘two things that already taste bad but put together become tolerable’ exercise, I guess.

To that end I decided to tackle drawing a cluster of islands, an archipelago for the technical of you reading this, and combine that with drawing a land for my dwarves to live in.

Now dwarves have a little bit more in folklore for me to work from than the Oak King did, which is always nice! Though not originally Celtic, they did come along with the Vikings when they settled in the North, so I’m including them anyway.

Ch.22 - So You Want To Draw A Map - Part 2Certainly we know the Anglo-Saxons took the dwarves into their folkloric hearts, because there is a record of the charm Wið Dweorh (Against a Dwarf) in the Lacnunga (‘Remedies’); a collection of miscellaneous Anglo-Saxon medical texts and prayers, written mainly in Old English and Latin. The charm, which involved writing the names of the biblically mythical Seven Sleepers of Ephesus onto seven wafers, then singing an alliterative verse three times, appears to cure sleep disturbances, although the translation’s a little iffy and might instead be tackling fevers or warts. Whatever it was, you know a creature-concept has made it into folkloric canon when they are texts on how to get rid of it!

Also is anyone else kind of convinced that this is the Anglo-Saxon version of telling your child to count sheep if they can’t sleep? This definitely seems suspiciously familiar…

What we know of dwarves for map-drawing purposes is, as I say, more helpful than with the Oak King, but that’s saying little. It was said that there were originally four dwarves, named Norðri, Suðri, Austri and Vestri (Old Norse ‘North, South, East, and West’) who held up the sky, although they also must have had hella mating skills, because the Prose Edda and Poetic Edda (our two main sources for Viking legends) contain mention of over a hundred dwarves by name.

Ch.14 Making Men of Myths - Part 2Their world was named Nidavellir (Old Norse for ‘Dark Fields’), no one is allowed to ask me how to pronounce it, and one of their other functions in myth was to guard doorways in the mountains which allow access between the worlds. It also seems to be the same place as Myrkheim (‘Dark Home’ or ‘World of Darkness’), and I am happy to say that we have directions!

Yes, you too may visit the dwarves, although why on earth you’d want to is up for debate. I mean, the things I would do to get my hands on the Mead of Poetry are many and terrible, but the risk of cursed treasure, being turned to stone or simple death strikes me as a little off-putting…

Anyway, the directions go as follows:

Stóð fyr norðan, / á Niðavöllom / salr úr gulli / Sindra ættar

Before you reach the north, A dark dwelling stands, In halls of gold, Sindri’s bloodline lives.

Völuspá (Prophecy of the Völva)

So compasses out, all you adventurers! Send us postcards, if you can because as we all know the directions of seeresses are easy to follow and never misleading at all.

It seems to be a charming place to live; not only characterised by its darkness (and therefore possibly underground) its other chief feature is the never ending mist. Another name for the place (welcome to folklore, where every time we mention something it gets a new name, despite clearly being the same place) is Niflheim or ‘Abode of Mist or ‘Mist World’.

The story goes that Niflheim was the second world created, and placed right next door to Muspelheim, the world of fire. Being naturally cold and damp in Niflheim, the end result was massive clouds of fog and steam. I did read one translation that called it a ‘creating steam’ so maybe it was actually a lovely place once you got there?

Stage One – Ideas!

Well, clearly we can’t just have a world populated four dwarves, that would be sad!

Alternatively, if I grouped dwarves into clans, then that sorts out the population issues pretty well. Four major dwarvish clans then, each lead by mighty warriors, named for their respective forebears. I like it.

And since the original dwarf myths are Viking, instead of drawing one big world for these clans to live in, I thought I’d go for a collection on islands. Island chains have very diverse cultures, as each island is encouraged by separation to develop their own very distinct societies, and you just don’t see enough sea-going dwarves in literature, which is an image I really like.

Ch.20 - The Magic that Walks Among UsSo the obvious first thing we need are four main islands, positioned in the North, South, East and West. Since the world of the dwarves had so many different names throughout the recorded sagas, I could see if I can name each of them after a different legend’s moniker.

It might not be an original interpretation, but it’s a start and this map could pretty much be summarised as ‘Hey, It’s a start!’

And we’ll need some smaller islands too, partly because archipelagos have those (I checked), and partly because it gives each clan something to fight for and lose to each other, and win back through feats of strength or cunning, which is good for world-building.

Stage Two – Start Sketching (Badly)

OK, so draw a circle and quickly draw in four rough shapes, one at each point of the compass.

Islands 1Top Tip Time: If you are anything like me and feel the inescapable urge to have everything be perfect on the first try, I recommend closing your eyes for this bit. No really, close your eyes when you draw. You’re only drawing rough shapes anyway, and it will help you combat the urge to over-think everything.

I always find it a lot easier to develop and ‘fix’ something that already exists than try to create the sublimely perfect on the first attempt.

Still, looking at it now: Urgh!

Whoever saw a cluster of islands so regimented? And what on earth do I do with all that blank space in the middle?

I suppose I could do something like add another island in the middle, but then I’d have to name it and find a use for it…

No, I don’t like that idea, let’s have another go…

Stage Three – If At First You Do Not Succeed…

Brief Philosophical Moment: In try not to apologise for my weird little drawings anymore – bad first drafts lead to good final drafts. Blank paper leads to nothing.

Keep trying until you find something that works for your eyes, and then you’ll have the confidence to share it with others!

Islands 2OK, Round 2; here we come!

So this time, I’ve tried to sort-of squish the islands together a bit, crowding out some of that blank space with islands I actually want to be there.

And I’ve tried to give the islands a bit of a curve, closing the loop a bit to give a sens eof a complete little world.

Down at the bottom I’ve tried to give a sense that these islands are at least a little bit the product of contimental drift, like how Africa was once joined up with South America.

I’ve tried to combat the sense that everything’s too artifical with a perfect circle formation by gently off-setting the islands so that none of them are truly North, South, etc.

Islands 3This isn’t a bad try, but I’m pretty sure I can refine it.

Hang on.

OK, Round 3 is up and running. Now we’re even more squished up, and un-regimented. What do you think?

I feel like this map really shows my patented ‘Close your eyes and scribble, it probably won’t be as hideous as you think’ technique.

There’s a weird sense of freedom when you try this, and especially when you don’t really know what you want, it’s a helpful starting point.

At the very worst, you’ll open your eyes and think ‘OK, not that then.’ Drawing by process of elimination is as good a technique as any, I say!

I’ve added in a few little islands here and there, but all in all I’m pretty happy with this, let’s make this sketch look like an actual map, shall we?

Stage Four – Details!

This exercise has mostly been about finding a way to draw a cluster of islands I liked the look of, so when I say ‘Details’ what I mean is ‘An outline that doesn’t look like abstract art’.

Islands 4OK? OK.

And here we go! If you’re wondering how we got from Attempt 3 to Attempt 4, then the answer is fairly simple.

I put Attempt 3 under a blank sheet of paper, so that only the barest outline would show through. No tracing paper or light-behind-the-page technique, as that only encourages me in my over-thinking and tendancy to try to copy as much as possible from the previous draft.

Then I took a deep breath, made sure not to hold the pencil too tight and tried for the absolute most wiggly outline I possible could!

I’m actually really proud of the end result, and I have a bad tendancy towards drawing these smooth, flowing lines for coastlines, and they never look even remotely real. Just check out my last map for a good example!

You can see (hopefully) that in places I strayed a long way out of in from my guidelines, but that only helps the disorganisation of natural forms, I think.

All in all, I’m really pleased with this! Not bad for not knowing what I was doing!

What Next?

So, the next step for this map is enlarge it, make several copies of it and then start trying out different internal designs. Where to put the mountains and rivers and things.

But that’s for another day, and another map!

If you liked this post, why not check out the mapping mini-series masterpost for more ruminations about drawing and a discussion about a few uses for maps in a fantasy story?

Posted in Chronicles in Creation

So You Want To Draw A Map? – Part 2

Map Effect

So you wanna draw a map for your fantasy novel, huh? Why? What for?

That’s not an accusation at all, but rather a straight-up question. Not all fantasy maps are the same; they serve many different purposes, and that affects the mindset you need when you sit down to draw one.

What do you want to show your readers? How will you be using it? How will they be using it? Are you going to be referring to the map in your story, or is it there only for the readers’ use?

Of course, your map can do several things at once, in fact that would be preferable if you can manage it, but let’s go and explore a few ways that maps can and have been used to great effect in other stories.

Ch.22 - So You Want To Draw A Map - Part 2

Setting The Tone

It’s really easy to read up on drawing maps for fantasy books and feel overwhelmed by all the information you surely must pack into this seminal piece of literary work, so I wanted to start out on an easy one.

Sometimes maps are just there to look cool.

I know, that sounded a little heretical even in the privacy of my own head, but stay with me!

Maps aren’t just visual information, they are also works of art. Like illustrations, they add a lot to a story just on their own merit, and they can make a book a bit more interesting to people who get tired by pages and pages of text.

Narnia Map
The Map of Narnia, from the Chronicles of Narnia by C.S.Lewis (Yes, I know you probably all knew that, shush.)

As a map, it’s not a complicated one. It’s got nothing to tell the onlooker that they wouldn’t have known from reading the books, there’s no extra towns or villages, and all of the places mentioned are shown in the text when the characters go and have adventures there.

One of the benefits of living in Oxford is that occasionally you get to go and see random paraphernalia from the Inklings’ early writing days, and I actually got to see C.S.Lewis’ notes to the lady who actually drew the map originally, Pauline Baynes. The instructions are all artistic in nature:

My idea was that the map should be more like a medieval map than an Ordnance Survey – mountains and castles drawn – perhaps winds blowing at the corners – and a few heraldic-looking ships, whales and dolphins in the sea.

And that’s perfect for the type of books that The Chronicles of Narnia are! They are a very medieval literature based series; in tone, in structure (if anyone’s interested I’ll talk about that more in another post) and in feel. And their maps reflect that.

People who love and remember the series will also love and remember the map because they go together so well. I mentioned I was doing this post to three people in two days and all of them had owned a poster of this map to put on the wall at home. As they should; it’s a beautiful map! Who cares if it’s not in any way necessary to enjoy the books? That map is beautiful, and we should rightly treasure it as such.

c.s lewis-drawn map

Bonus Section: Have you seen the sketch of the map that C.S. Lewis drew himself for reference when writing? This map always gives me hope when I’m struggling to draw a map to understand where to put things. Never look at the fancy ones that end up in the book and think that your own working copy has to look anything like as pretty, OK?

A Sense of Scale

If your characters are heading off on an epic quest, then a map can be a great way to show exactly how far these people are travelling. Books and films are wonderful, but between time-jumps and skipped dull areas, it’s hard to get a sense of how far is waaaay far.

Enter Middle Earth:

Middle Earth Map 2
The map that needs no introduction…

The great thing about The Lord of the Rings that I think people really respond to is the feeling that there’s far more going on in this world than we just see in the story. You know, like how Bristol still exists even though I haven’t been there in years. Or the fact that I’ve never seen Australia has no bearing on the fact that it’s really there and people live in it.

There are places on this map that our heroes never go to in the book; places like Dunland, Anfalas, or the Icebay of Forochel.  There are places we already knew existed, but don’t see in this story, like Erebor and Mirkwood. And people in the story also come from those places, and they reference events going on in those places which we won’t get to see. The world of Middle Earth is effectively too big for the story to visit all of it, so some things can only be shown on the map and told of by other people.

You also get from the map a real sense of the scale of this adventure. In the event that you have an edition of the map which actually shows the Shire (some versions don’t and we’ll come back to that) then look at how far Frodo and Sam have to lug themselves and that lousy ring! Someone did a layover of the Middle Earth map and a map of the United States and effectively Frodo walks about two-thirds of the length of America to get rid of that thing. No wonder the book’s so long! That’s a lot of leg-work!

I know people who DNF the book and a lot of them tap out when Aragon, Legolas and Gimli are legging it across the Plains of Rohan, which yes, takes bloody forever.

But then you look at the actual size of the Plains of Rohan and all of a sudden you totally understand Eomer’s shock when they explain what they’ve just done and how he just thrusts two horses at the group of strangers because ‘I cannot deal with this kind of stupidity, for god’s sake just take them and I can stop worrying about your foolhardiness, who the hell let you three out and why isn’t there a responsible adult watching over you?’

I mean, I’m paraphrasing, but you know he was thinking exactly this.

Authenticity and Mystery

Sometimes, especially if everyone’s off on an adventure in your story, the map is vital for your reader because everyone in the story is looking at it, so you need to provide it for the reader.

Obviously I’m thinking of Thror’s Map in The Hobbit.

Hobbit Map
Thror’s Map, which Gandalf totally didn’t nick, no really…

This map is a major plot device in the story, a rare case of a very well-used MacGuffin for those who read the Hide and Seek post. It sets everyone off on this crazy adventure and gives out information, but doesn’t over-stay its welcome or try to take over the plot. We don’t really care about the map or the treasure, after all, we just want to watch Bilbo and his dwarves getting into and out of trouble.

Anyway, the map is full of clues to help the gang on their quest, like the information on where the keyhole is, but it’s also really simple. There’s not a whole lot of information on it, like it’s just an aide-memoire for the kings of Erebor who need to pass along information about their home.

It’s a very … authentic map, really. It’s been made in-universe, by people our characters have a connection with, and it’s only been made for one purpose which it does really well. The map doesn’t show us where Erebor is in relation to much of anything, with the exception of a few arrows vaguely explain that To the North are The Grey Mountains and whatnot. But why should it? If you belong to Erebor then you will already know where Erebor is. I mean, we don’t when we read The Hobbit for the first time, but it’s not our map, so deal.

This also means the story can still have some big mysteries though, because the map not telling us everything is a problem for the characters too. The map assumes a certain level of knowledge which has been lost while the dwarves wandered, homeless after the mountain was taken. There are additional notes (the Moon Runes are written after the rest of the map, probably right before the map was given to Thror by his father) speaking to a need to pass down information about to be lost, but not everything was written.

Historians have this issue all the time, by the way. No one writes down everything because you’ll just know what they’re talking about, right? No, I don’t know what happened to cause the rift between these two houses and therefore starts this whole eighty years of conflict, tell me damnit!


So, yes. Asking yourself who made the map and why will mean that you may need to leave key bits of information out, and create a mystery about finding the answers. People make maps for all kinds of reasons, and those reasons will probably be different from our needs as readers and characters in this adventure. That’s just life, but that helps make your story feel like real life too.

Quick and Clear

Sometimes, especially if you’ve got a lot of information to get into the audience’s head in a very short space of time, you need to resort to big, easy to understand images, and maps are once again about to come to your rescue.

Take a look at the opening sequence of Avatar: The Last Airbender – there’s been a war going on for a hundred years, and there are four nations involved.

How do you explain who those four sides are and where they all are in relation to one another? That’s right; a map!

Tada! For the uninitiated: (Clockwise from Top Left) Water Tribes, Earth Kingdom, Air Nomads, Fire Nation

This beautiful, yet deceptively simple, map is shown at the start of every episode, and is referred to within the story too. The Fire Nation, we are told, has eradicated the Air Nomads, and largely crushed the Water Tribe, leaving only the Earth Kingdom left to be conquered. This is taking them some time, and the map certainly shows why that would be the case because the Earth Kingdom is massive.

Avatar is a children’s show, so there’s a lot of clean, clear images used. The map is easy to follow, and the use of colours is carried right through the show. The two characters from the Water Tribe wear blue, and their lands are picked out in blue on the map so you won’t forget where they come from. The Earth Kingdom is green, and so are the clothes worn by everyone belonging to the Earth Kingdom in the show, no matter who they are. Obviously the Fire Nation is red, and guess what their colour-scheme is?

There’s a lot of subtlety in the show, in its story, its characters and its world-building, but it can manage this without losing its intended audience because of these big simple over-arching images; the map and its colours keep everyone up to speed with who’s on screen at any one time, without having to remember what happened previously.

It’s tempting to over-complicate your map, along with everything else in your story, so if you keep losing your beta readers, check this show out and watch a master-class in when and where to keep things simple so you can play with subtlety elsewhere.

Developing Plotlines

Maps, like people and stories, don’t stay the same. They are constantly being redrawn and redrafted as ideas, styles, and politics shift and develop and change. If you’re writing an on-going series in which major events change the political or physical landscape of the world you’ve built, then why not experiment with showing those developments in the maps you draw?

Yes, obviously I’m talking about the opening sequence of Game of Thrones in which features a mechanical map: If you’re not familiar with the show, this is just the opening sequence so you can see what I’m talking about.

Game of Thrones Map
Westeros and Essos, two lands renowned to all for their peace and tranquillity…

The way the show uses its opening sequence is very clever, as it only draws attention to the areas we’ll be visiting in this section of the story; showing where all these locations are in relation to each other, which faction controls each location and potentially telling us something about what’s going on there (like that whole time when Winterfell was on fire).

For such a large and detailed landscape, this cuts down on confusion – we’re never told anything we don’t need to know from the map, meaning everything we see is important – and it builds suspense for the areas we haven’t seen yet. People were really excited when Season Seven opened with the reveal of a new location after we’d become familiar with the old ones.

It also gives a sense of the rise and fall of various political powers as their emblems overtake or are overtaken on different strongholds, so you can track how each faction is doing without needing hours of plot explained to you.

In conclusion…

So as you can see, there’s a lot of different uses you can put your map to, so have a good think about what your maps can do for you. Obviously things change, as we’ll see later on in this little series, but that’s why we’re starting our sketching early!

As mentioned before, check out the Masterpost here for updates to my Many Adventures in Mapping, check out the rest of the Chronicles in Creation here for other writing topics and discussion pieces, and go for Ghosts&Gowns here for some original fiction which might tickle your funny bone!

Catch you next time, everyone!

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…