I love maps. I love looking at maps. I love making maps. One reason you should too is that they can be useful and meaningful tools for fleshing out a world, making small pieces of world information thrown in so much more vibrant. They also can help to avoid info dumping. Still, like anything else, they shouldn’t be used as a crutch to avoid writing. They’re a tool like any other.
Whether you’ve barely begun writing or you’ve finished the piece itself and are letting it sit before self-editing, making a map of your world, and eventually bringing it to life, can really flesh out the world. Since we’re working on the “bringing it to life” part throughout this series, I thought I’d take a look at good map making practices.
Simple Tricks, Better Maps.
The first thing of any import is to relax. I prefer drawing my maps out physically, instead of digitally, and it’s imperative when doing so to keep your hand relaxed and jittery. I say jittery because the one big pet peeve I have for fantasy maps is that they often have a lot of flat coastlines, which makes little to no sense.
So the first step of making a larger scale map, let’s say one of a whole world, is drawing your continents roughly as a bunch of circles. This is simple and requires very little thought, which allows for the world to organically form, and generally look more believable at the end. I’m not going to put a picture of this up, but it’s easy enough.
After this, the jitteriness comes into play. You need to relax your hand and let it flow freely along the lightly penciled circles that you’ve created, dipping in and out of them, forming bays and peninsulas and inlets of various types as you go. This may seem difficult, but it really isn’t at this stage. Your map may look a little sloppy, but it’s fine because next you’re going to trace over that in black ink, which allows coastlines to pop.
Once you have the basics of your map in place, you need to start thinking about how far you can go with the map before it begins interacting with aspects of the world that are integral to the story. You can come back to it later, but you shouldn’t go too far yet, unless you want to go whole hog with letting the geography shape your societies, which I clearly am a proponent of. In any case, we’ll take a look at putting biomes and water into a map after we’ve built a world to put this map in.
If you’re interested in building a world, check out this series!