Maps in Writing

When it comes to constructing your world it’s very easy to become lost in your own creation without a visual reference or extensive notes to refer to. Personally, I prefer something I can look at rather than pages of notes when it comes to my world. So, in order to have a quick reference of where everything is, what lies between one village and the next, how large a mountain chain is, and so on, I create maps. For the sake of this post I’ve hastily thrown together a map which you can see below:

islands

This map is very rough and incomplete, but if this was for something I was writing it would be enough to have accurate information for locations and travel distances. Also, details of my world that I may otherwise not realize would be easy to pull from the map. Our imaginations are powerful things, but never underestimate the power of a map. Using the above example, I’d know that the river running from the lake near the mountains to the larger lake below is roughly 600 miles long. Taking the average speed a small boat might travel either up or down the river I can determine the amount of days my character(s) would need to make the journey and can plan events along the way accordingly.

My main point here is that taking the time to map out your world, even if it’s only a rough copy like the map above, is well worth your time. It adds realism to your world and the events that take place in it. Readers can often suspend their belief when you’re writing and there’s ways to summarize a journey in your writing (i.e. “Several days after the journey up the river…”) but if you’re going to write out the full journey then it needs to make sense. A small boat, even going down river, wouldn’t cover 600 miles in a day. Nobody would believe it could unless it was explained away with magic or something else that makes sense. If it’s just a regular boat then I would be completely jolted out of the story if you told me it traveled that far in a period of time that didn’t make sense.

Next, having a visual representation of your map is an excellent way to ensure that the placement of things makes sense. Most settlements, at least in Medieval periods, are going to be by some body of water. Whether it be a lake, a river or the ocean, people need to have water and so many of the cities will be built by them. If there’s a spot on a continent that makes sense for a harbor then put a harbor there. Otherwise, don’t slap a harbor into a random spot that wouldn’t be suitable for one. Don’t put icebergs in places it wouldn’t make sense to put them. And so on. Placement is very important in a world. You can see by my rough map that I’ve placed some settlements near bodies of water that make sense. You have a small hamlet by the mountains and next to the start of the river so they can take goods down river, and then a large city by the lake at the bottom that could be a place for trade. On the right side of the map there’s a small village in the forest by the lake and one down by the harbor at the bottom. These things all make sense, though I will say that the forest could use some touching up and modification in placement.

Also, don’t forget geographical location. North on your map may be hotter instead of colder depending on where your continent is located on the planet. Plan your weather accordingly and remember that the size of the continent can also have a drastic affect on the weather patterns. If there’s thousands of miles between one city and another the weather patterns between seasons will differ greatly between them. Don’t have snow, rain or a hurricane in both locations at the same time, for example. These things can be harder to think about, but they are all important and help shape your world. Major plot points can be based off the weather alone. Imagine a large scale battle with infantry in either a sunny or rainy day. Just the change of the weather can have a profound affect on the battle and the people within it.

Lastly, don’t forget bodies of water. So often people think about the continent they wish to design for the people of their world, but they forget about the water. There should be more than one sea since any place there isn’t land there will probably be water. This opens a lot of opportunities to you and can allow for future possibilities in your world, so make sure you note where the water is and keep what could potentially be on the other side of it in the back of your mind.

For my maps I currently use Campaign Cartographer 3. It’s a great piece of software and I highly recommend it for new or experienced map makers alike. It does cost money, so if budget is a concern then I recommend checking out GIMP which is a graphic design software. You can use GIMP in a similar fashion and hand craft your maps. For a simple reference map that you’re only going to use for yourself it’s very easy to whip up something in black and white in CC3 or GIMP and then go from there. Websites for these can be found here:

http://www.profantasy.com/products/cc3.asp
http://www.gimp.org/

I urge you to take the time to experiment with the above software and make your own maps a reality. You can spend countless hours customizing them to get them exactly how you want them, or you can just as easily spend an hour or two to whip up something quickly to use for reference. Either way, it’s worth your time to map out your world before you begin writing your story.

I hope this has been helpful and see you all next time.

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