Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Fantasy Map-Making

I won't lie; one of the main reasons I write fantasy is the chance to build new cultures, creatures, and worlds. Don't listen to the naysayers; playing God is awesome.
Of course, one of the most important parts of world-building is creating a map for your brand new world. I've spent many an hour lovingly stroking maps at the start of fantasy books. There's just something about a good map that makes the whole world come alive. (Ironically, my favourite map is actually not from an entirely different world. The map in Scott Westerfeld's Leviathan is freaking magnificent.)

For my debut novel, THE CONVERTED, I never got past a sketched map in the back of my notebook, and no map has yet been added to the ebook. If and when I write additional stories in the same world I will probably come up with something a bit more concrete and make it available.

But since I am publishing the draft of FALSE GODS as an online serial as I write, I decided it would be wise to have a map available to assist people as they read. I considered just going with a rough sketch, but that wouldn't do the world justice, so I decided to dust off my meagre Photoshop skills and see what I could come up with. Here's the finished result (click for a bigger picture):

In this post I'll talk about how I came to this point. I won't do a full tutorial at this stage, because half the time I was just screwing around trying to get stuff to look right, but I'll give you a look at my process.

Before I even start writing, I like to have an idea of the geography. By far the best tool I have found for this is Fractal Terrains. This nifty software allows you to randomise an entire world, and it will calculate altitudes, climate, and dozens of other variables. You can then tweak the world as you choose, until you get something you're happy with. The demo version is available here, so go check it out.

The continent I chose to use for FALSE GODS is shown below:

As awesome as Fractal Terrains is, I like to do much of my brainstorming and world creation on paper. Being too lazy to actually print out a copy of the map, I just put a piece of paper on my computer screen and traced the image. You are free to do something less weird.

The next step was to add in cities, regions, borders, rivers, and anything else important to the story. It wasn't until after I'd done this that I actually began writing the story. By now I had a fair idea of the geography, in addition to the other world-building I'd already done.

Then it was time to make the proper map. As mentioned above, my Photoshop skills are limited, so I turned to the interwebs for aid. Cartographer's Guild is a website for map-making enthusiasts, and they have numerous tutorials on their discussion forums. There are some incredibly beautiful maps on the site, and I encourage you to check them out if you're interested in making your own map.

Using one of the tutorials so generously provided, and a fair amount of trial-and-error and slamming my head into the keyboard, I got something I was happy with.

I played with the saturation of the image and overlaid a folded paper texture to grunge the whole thing up a bit. Then I was done!

It didn't take nearly as long as I'd feared to make something I'm pleased with. More importantly, it was fun.

What do you guys think? How do you make your fantasy maps?

Remember to check out my fantasy novel THE CONVERTED, available for Kindle, Nook, Sony eReader, or in any format you like at Smashwords.


  1. Very nice! I love making maps to go along with fantasy & sci-fi worlds too. I think I'll have to check out those tutorials. I have my maps in a notebook somewhere, but I want to make a professional looking one on my computer.

  2. Thanks! This was my first attempt making a map on the computer so I'm pleased with how it turned out. If you want to be really intimidated check out the Cartography Guild deviantart page at http://cartography-guild.deviantart.com/

    Some of the maps there are absolutely incredible.

  3. Nicely done. Will definitely think of buying a copy for our publishing house. It's a great map. And I too share your love for maps. My favourite is the map in the Earthsea Quartet.

  4. I agree, the Earthsea map is excellent. The detail is extraordinary.

  5. Wow, really nice map! :-)

    I have an idea for an SF/fantasy series, but it's just at the "thinking" stage at this point.

  6. Oops, what I should've said before I hit the Post Comment button was that a map would be a nice addition if that SF/fantasy series ever comes to fruition.

  7. Great tips on maps. You've reminded me that I need to work on updating my own. I'm enjoying reading your blog as well. Keep up the good work! ^ ^