Writing Fantasy: How to Make a Great Map 2

This is part 2 of my ‘How to Make a Great Map’ piece.

Let’s pick up where we left off. Nations and countries. First of all: how many people? How many villages? How big are the cities? The answers to these problems can be found right here. Seriously, this post is a godsend. It addresses everything from technological level to how many people your country’s farms could support. To be honest, there’s probably more information here than you need.

It doesn’t tell you how to actually make the map, though. So, how do you?

My advice to you: photoshop. You can get around the cost of photoshop by getting the 30-day free trial. If the only thing you need it for is to make your map, there you go; it shouldn’t take you a whole month to do this. There are other ways, of course, but I’m most familiar with Photoshop. As far as I know, it is possible to do all of this in GIMP, the free photo editing software, which is available here.

First thing’s first, you’re going to want an outline of your map’s physical features. Whether you find it easier to draw this by hand and scan it in or draw it in photoshop is up to you. Once you have it, however, you should follow the steps I outlined in part 1. The crucial part: make sure you do each step on a new layer. That way you can see how your map looks with mountains, without mountains, with forests, without, etc. This way you only have to draw one map, yet end up with a political map, a geological map, etc. The transparency tool is your friend here, because you can use it to make certain details more clear or less clear, and choose an overall style for your map. You can also produce political maps for different eras of your world and layer them over each other, seeing how your countries have changed over time. I find this to be very useful for visualising the history and development of the worlds I create, and to decide where conflicts between cultures are most likely to happen.

When you’re happy with the layout of your map, you can make it look authentic by adding beige filter layers, cloud layers and texture layers – on really high transparency – to create the illusion of aged, weathered parchment.

Thanks for reading! If there’s anything you think I’ve missed or that I should have included, drop me a message and I’ll add it in. You can read the rest of my ‘How to Write Fantasy’ series here, and next week I will be tackling that great beast – fictional languages in fantasy.

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