Mapmaking R Us

I write Fantasy/ Scifi – which is one of the bigger genres on the market right now. One thing people don’t really think about are all the small things that go into creating a world, the biggest one being actually coming up with the world itself.

For many Fantasy and SciFi worlds, they use the one we were given – the Earth. Change a few names, but keep the same general concepts – country structures, water formations.

But, for many world building is an active and arduous process. The easiest part of drawing your map is just that – drawing the edges. All you need to do is draw some squiggly lines and hope for the best. From there it gets a little harder. There are 5 main things that you need to consider when creating a world:

  1. Water Placement – water is essential to almost all living beings – with the exception of some bacteria. Now water always flows to the ocean. They don’t branch outward – they don’t branch as they get closer to the ocean. Instead, many small streams meet to make rivers, meet until they meet the ocean. So, make sure you research water formations to ensure that your world looks realistic.
  2. The environment – This means trees, shrubs, plants, fruits, veggies, sand, soil, rocks, etc. You want to know what is in the areas you are creating. Is it a desert with only cacti to eat? Your readers will notice if you mention maple trees one day and palm trees the next. THis is where we add mountains, valleys, rivers, etc.
  3. The Climate – yes, this and #2 go hand in hand. Depending on the climate you have, you will have different kind of trees, plants, flowers, etc. that can grow there. The only reason I put this in second is because this is fantasy. Technically we can make stuff up. So, once you’ve decided what things you want to grow in specific areas you want to decide what climate will accompany it. If you want this aspect to be a little more realistic, you want to pair climate with the fauna and flora. If you want to make stuff up you still must ensure that things remain consistent – if palm trees can’t survive in warm climates and must now grow in climates filled with snow you must ensure that all cool places have some form of trees such as this.
  4. Borders – this is where you want to think about where your borders are going to be. Where would you, as a leader of a country place your borders? Are you fighting over the edge of a river, the centre of a lake? Is there a natural barrier such as mountains, deserts, forests that separate them? When you look at maps from older times you’ll notice that many barriers were natural between countries, and happened because it was harder to conquer across the mountain (think Ancient Greece, how the mountains separated many city states from each other). Even in today’s world we see some natural separations, such as Lake Ontario separating some of Ontario from the US. Either way you need to decide how big, small, etc your countries will be.
  5. Commerce and Transport – from here you want to decide how you’re travelling. Do they travel mostly by water, and therefore transport most of their goods along the rivers? Is your country mostly land-locked and need wagons/cars/hovertrucks etc. to transport and travel?

From here, there are many small things you can consider, but you have the basis of your world. Now you can match your people to the countries. You can create believable trades, imports and exports based on the climate, flora, fauna, transport capacities. From there we can look at alliances, etc. I don’t want to go too in depth into the rest of world building in this post – that would literally take forever. But, from here I find it easiest to start thinking about the rest. I love having a piece of my world in front of me while I write. It gives me so so much more space for ideas to blossom.

Obviously, in each category I’ve mentioned there’s a lot more you need to do. I’ve spent hours just researching types of trees so that I could ensure that my world would be as realistic as possible – all fantasy aspects notwithstanding. Now, I do understand that I am a little on the ‘extra’ side of the spectrum. Some authors may not feel the need to do so much research, but part of my process and getting ideas really is just learning more about this world, and in doing so learning more about mine as I search.

Let me know what you do in mapmaking! I’d love to hear some other perspectives. THere’s really not much on the internet in terms of mapmaking for fantasy writers.

Anyways – Bye for now my lovelies. See you next post <3.

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