NaNoWriMo · Novels

Mapping Fantasy Worlds

When I’m writing a new story, one of the things I like to do is draw maps. For stories in our world, I track down maps made as close to the year where I’m setting the story as possible. For fantasy stories, I’ll draw entire countries or worlds. Usually the story idea comes before the map, but for the novel I’m planning to write during NaNoWriMo, the map came first.

"Mapping Fantasy Worlds" Writing Prompts and articles at MarisMcKay.com
I decided to go with a fantasy story (instead of my dystopian idea) for NaNoWriMo. This is the first page of my outlines, character sketches, and ideas

My first thought was to set it in an entirely different world from my other fantasy novels, but then I remembered an entire unmapped country in Ves’endlera that would work perfectly for setting this novel.

"Mapping Fantasy Worlds" Writing Prompts and articles at MarisMcKay.com
Kern, first draft

Most of my maps start out as quick sketches in notebooks. If I want them to be part of Ves’endlera, I’ll then add a more polished version to a Photoshop document. That makes it easy to edit when I have a new idea, and gives me a place to keep track of all the maps.

"Mapping Fantasy Worlds" Writing Prompts and articles at MarisMcKay.com
Kern, Photoshop-version

When I’m first starting a map, I’ll usually look at Google Earth and find a coastline or two that I like, then borrow that. (My first map of Endan was traced from New Jersey, then turned on its side.) I also try to mimic patterns I see on the globe — where forests are located, how mountains affect surrounding geography, where do deserts form, and things like that. I want my maps to look realistic, even if they are not of “real” places. Maybe I should look into buying some cartography books and actually researching this properly.

I’ve also tried out a Fantasy World Generator, though I’ve never used the maps in a story. You can give the world a name, specify proportion of water to land, and decide whether or not you want geography, rivers, and towns generated as well. I’ve saved some of the maps I generated, and I can see how it would be a great resource if you didn’t want to draw a world yourself.

Do you map out your worlds before you start writing?

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