Writing Fantasy: How to Make a Great Map 1

The first thing to think about when making a fantasy map is geography. For that I’m going to not-so-subtly point you in the direction of a previous post in this series about geography.

That’s all well and good, you say, but how to I actually go about making a map? I’ll get to software in a little bit. I want to start with what to include in a map. If you’re drawing by hand, tracing paper is your best friend, and a copy machine is your second-best. Because unless you’re a wizard at drawing, you’re gonna struggle to draw two maps that look the same – and if you want to extensively map your world, you’re going to need more than one.

These are things you should consider including in a map:

  • First, begin by drawing the coastline. If you’re going to do your map on a computer, you’re better off drawing it by hand first and then copying it or taking a photo of it and drawing around it in Photoshop to save time. Leave gaps where you can add the mouths of rivers later.
  • The next thing I do is draw the mountain ranges. Usually I do this by shading lines of ranges across my map with a pencil. This keeps the ranges fairly accurate. As a rule, draw between one and five ranges criss-crossing each continent, and make sure they aren’t dead straight!
  • Now you know where the highlands are, you can draw the rivers. Draw rivers that flow from the ranges to the sea. Remember that water usually takes the fastest route from land to sea, so rivers will represent the areas where your land is closest to sea level. These will be areas where farming is easier, and so cities and high populations will be more likely here. The closer to the mountains you go, the higher up you go and the less fertile the land is. People in these areas tend to be more shepherds and foragers than farmers.
  • With this in mind, draw in your forests and jungles. Generally they will sit in the lower basins where there is more water, but they can be anywhere you want really. If you’re aiming for realism, make sure you don’t have loads more forests near the mountains than you do near the rivers and coasts.If you want to add in swamps, they will form in lowlands that are either near the sea or close to sea-level.
  • There aren’t really hard-and-fast rules for deserts, steppes, tundras and the like. They tend to form on flat lands that are far from the sea, far from mountains, and have few rivers, but these aren’t solid rules. Generally, deserts will form close to the equator, tundras will form close to the poles, and steppes will form in between these.

That’s the natural features of the map done. This post has turned out longer than I expected, so I’m splitting it into two parts. Next time we’ll put nations onto our map and talk about making the map in Photoshop.

Thanks for reading! You can find the rest of my Writing Fantasy series here. If you have any questions on this topic, put them in the comments and I’ll answer them for you.

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