Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Fantasy Maps

Many fantasy stories are accompanied by a map.  Think about Tolkien-his stories ranged in many different places, and he always had a map to accompany them.  Think about the Inheritance Series (Eragon, Eldest, Brisngr), it has a map of the places where the story takes place.  The Door Within, The White Lion Chronicles.  There are many more as well.
I'm not going to try to convince you of the importance of a map, they are very handy for the reader and the writer though.  I'm going to attempt to explain how to draw a convincing map.  I'll do my best, even though I'm not the best artist or geographist lol.
Below are pictures of a map that I had worked on for the book I was writing before the one I'm working on now.
There were actually nine of these, but I don't see the need to show them all.  As you can see, I'm not the greatest artist, but it's still a map.  Below is a picture of a map of Middle Earth drawn by J.R.R. Tolkien.
I've also worked on many maps for what I'm writing now, but I'm unable to upload those for technical reasons.  The newer ones are much better, however.
To make a fantasy map realistic though it needs to feel realistic.  I had a good laugh this morning about how unrealistic my first attempts at maps were.
In a real world, or more importantly in a real map, there are many rivers.  That's something I've noticed.  Plus, the world is mostly water.  To make it feel realistic you need to have many rivers.  But not too much, you've got to find a balance.
Also, a river isn't completely straight.  It will curve and swerve through the map until it reaches the sea or it's stopping point.  It will also branch out numerous times.  I have a map that has about seven or eight rivers that came from two rivers.
Another thing is mountains.  In a fantasy world there are-or should be-many mountains and so in your map there should be many mountains.  Because it's a fantasy world though it's the writers decision on how long the mountain range is, how many there are, etc.  It's good to have a variety.  Going back to the example with Tolkien, he had a mountain singled off.  It was even the major place in his first published work, The Hobbit.  So it's good to have a variety of mountain ranges.  Mountains can also be used as border points, to separate lands.  Just off the top of my head I can think of a possible story making a huge mountain range that is so tall and fierce-some that no one dared cross them.
Then comes forests-it is relatively the same as mountains.  You want to have a good variety of sizes of forests and there should be many of them.  They can also be used to hide ancient secrets such as the Seven Sleepers in Wayne Thomas Batson's Rise of the Wyrm Lord.
When making borders to the oceans and sea keep in mind things such as gulfs, cliffs and havens.
Since it is fantasy you have an advantage-you can throw in things such as gigantic cracks and chasms in the ground, trees that reach past eyesight into the sky, rivers that flow so fast that if you were to go in you'd be swept away and be unable to get out.  Don't be afraid to really go into things that are impossible-it's fantasy.  But still be realistic enough that you don't lose the reader.
Also don't feel limited when you draw maps. It's usually a good idea to not put bounds on your world so that you can always explore new lands.  That's part for the fun of the writer though.
And last but not least, do not feel like you have to be an artist to draw a map, I can barely draw but it doesn't stop me from at least trying to draw a map, however horrible I may be.


Chris said...

I love drawing maps. The first map I ever drew was me copying down Middle Earth onto paper. I still have that somewhere, and it looks pretty good.

A note about rivers: they almost always run from north to south. If you want to add an element of realism to a fantasy world, that's something you can do to help.

Jake said...

Darn, I can't see the maps... Except for the Middle Earth one.

Seth said...

Chris: Yeah, I thought they did.

Jake: Hmmm, what do you see? Like they're just not there at all, or is there something in there place?

Aidan Romero said...

Those are my favorite part about fantasy.

I have many rivers that flow South to North. I don't know why.

Beorn said...

That's funny what you said, Chris. The first map I ever drew was a copy of one from the Hobbit. That was pretty fun, but I left out a ton of stuff.

Beorn said...

Oops. Forgot to continue on my first comment =P

Was just going to say: I don't have too much of a problem drawing maps. My problem is that I have no idea how to scale them.

Rebecca LuElla Miller said...

I wrote about world building and maps on my blog two weeks ago. There's a poll, too, which you can still participate in if you're interested.

Worthy-Fantasy said...

Beorn: I have that problem as well heh. I am going to do some thinking about scaling and perhaps I'll do a follow up post on scaling. As much for my benefit as other people's.

Rebecca: I'm taking a look at it now :)

Seth said...

Whoops, that last comment-and this comment-was from Seth. I had checked the Worthy Fantasy inbox and hadn't logged out yet.

Rebecca: That's a great post-good insights on world building. If your interested in the races and species part of world building I have a few links on my sidebar to my series on Fantasy Races. Six parts technically, but only five them are finished and I don't plan on finishing the fifth.

Celebrilomiel said...

I've noticed that lots of different fantasy books will have a map or diagram of some sort. I've always wanted to draw a map, but I'm a terrible artist (or perhaps I should say that I'm not an artist at all?) and my first few attempts were so pitiful that I gave up the cause as lost.
For NaNoWriMo, I was having trouble figuring out how to get my characters from point A to point B. I needed a map. With much apprehension, I began a few rough sketches. Scaling was the hardest bit - I'd draw a mountain, and it would be the same size as one of the cities. But I kept at it and developed a rough map, but a map nonetheless. I've used it a lot, as my characters travel for most of the story.
All this to say:
- There is hope for those who can't draw to save their life.
- Maps are helpful to the writer, even if the reader never sees it.

Nathan R. Petrie said...

I love looking at maps as I read through the book. It's important to remember, however, that your story shouldn't be dependent on your map. The map is just an added bonus ;) So don't assume your readers know where everything because there's a map. I know readers who don't look at them. And, the map is an illustration. It's not the actual story :D

But yeah, I love maps. Now if someone could draw mine for me haha

Ivorydancer said...

lol cool pics! I love books with maps... and just maps too...

Are you Seth from the Curse of the Spider King contest? if so... which team were you on? I'm Cottia from Nightwing...

Love Swords of the Six!

Thanks for following my blog!

Seth said...

@IvoryDancer, Thanks, they were fun to draw. And, yes, indeed I am :) I was the leader of Swiftstorm, and I am also the leader this time around too, you can see it in the below post.

Swords of the Six is a pretty good book, I like it too.

You're welcome, thanks for stopping by!