Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Map Evolution

Mapping is a progressive business for me. I can't sit down, draw a bunch of lines, sprinkle mountains and rivers over it and then draw circles where I want cities to be. Well, I could, but it would be meaningless. I've tried, and have a lot of trouble defining my world after the map is drawn.

My map-drawing goes hand in hand with the worldbuilding. I imagine kingdoms/countries and their relations to one another. I know which are bigger, which are more military, which should have what kind of climate. They aren't drawn, but I have an end goal in mind. I also know my major storyline locations, and have a good idea of where they must be located (one relative to another, at any rate).

Then I sketch. Sketching maps is perhaps the only art-sy thing I can do. It was made even easier with my touchscreen laptop. Now I sketch straight into Paint. (yes, Paint. I don't have nor need anything else)

So, let's have some pictures. I am admittedly proud of my maps.

First sketch!
Everything with a name on there is important plotwise. Once I had that map, I took a closer look at each country. I always have a good idea of what must go in each and how I want the map to unfold, but the actual drawing, to me, is setting in stones these details. It means I have something solid I can reference to in the novel.

I started with Regaria
It was at that point that I realised that for the balance of power to really make sense in the novel, I'd need more than three countries. The plotter in me facepalmed hard, ranted inwardly that I should've done all that before I wrote the latest draft, and I ignored it. No point in beating myself over it.

I went ahead, added two new kingdoms and finished the lines around this continent.

From that point it was mainly a matter of adding the details that were in my notes. Drawing maps to me is part basic geography knowledge (and I really mean basic. I'm not a geography buff at all), part imagination in order to create unique locations, part historical logic. There's a couple of rules and tricks I set for myself when I draw.

  1. Pay attention to your mountain ranges. They should follow a certain tectonic plate logic.
  2. Rivers flow from higher ground into the ocean (or lower ground, if you have some place below the sea's level).
  3. Most important cities will be near a waterway. Population is likely more concentrated in such areas too.
  4. Water currents, hot and cold, have a major impact on climate. 
The end result of all this map-drawing fun was this:
TADAM! (And I just realised my cold water current lines are wrong. OOPS)
It is, in truth, still missing details in Mikken and Durham. I'll have them before I launch another rewrite. Just in case.

And now it's your turn! Do you have any tips for maps? Where do you start yours?


  1. Very, very cool. I've never made a detailed map like that, but now I wish I had the skills...

  2. What a fun post! Your maps are so incredibly awesome, so it's just fine that you're proud of them! I could never work from scratch, nor could I do it in paint! (I'm a photographer, and am addicted to photoshop!) I start by using the free relief map generator offered by greenfish, but it's just a starting point, and by the time I'm finished it looks completely different. I enjoy the process of making the maps, and I feel like it's an invaluable tool that will help me keep things straight when I'm writing. :)

  3. Hektor: I can assure you, there is very little actual skill involved. I am a crappy artist. I think I just spent long enough staring at fantasy maps or trying to draw *something* for DnD games.

    Jen: I couldn't do it in paint without the touchscreen either. I used to steal my sis' wacom tablet, or draw on paper.

    Map generators are another way to go, and I know Adam Heine sometimes zooms in on random bits of territory with Google Earth and uses that as a starting point.

  4. I've been working on a map lately as well. It doesn't have much detail yet, but I think I've at least got most of the big features roughly where I want them. It's actually a lot more fun than I thought it would be. I just use a pencil and paper though. :)

  5. I've been working on a map too! Admittedly, it sucks at the moment, but the skeleton of it is all I need at the moment.

    It seems that you have a lot of insight into geography! That definitely helps a lot. Unfortunately my grade 9 geography class ruined the entire science for me, which is why I've avoided it until now. I will definitely need to do more research into geography to make my own world more real and alive.

  6. Sarah: I tend to forget how much fun I have drawing mountains and forest until I grab a pen and do it. Then I never want it to stop. ;)

    GK: Geography was far from my favourite class to, but at some point in my roleplaying career I developped a world with a real geo-geek. I lifted a few basic tricks from him and ignored the more complex stuff!

  7. Claudie, this is SO interesting! I tried to make a map for my fantasy story and it was terrible. I've learned more just from reading this blog and the comments (um, Google Earth? Why didn't I think of that?). Thank you so much for sharing this information. And seeing your map unfold is super cool. Great job!

  8. I'm glad I could help, TL! And yeah, the Google Earth thing was quite a revelation when I read.

  9. By the way, is that Serenity I see in the middle of the mountains inspired by Serenity Valley of Firefly fame? ;)

  10. Yep, that's exactly it. Plus I already had named Reverence, so there was internal consistency with the setting. :)

  11. How did I miss this post? Your map is awesome.