Adventures in Mapping

One of my happy childhood memories was reading Oz books. My parents had an almost complete set handed down from their grandparents. I loved the stories, I loved the illustrations, but one of my favorite things were the pull-out, full-color maps. I would lie on the living room floor, book on one side, map next to it, tracking the route of our heroes on their adventure.

They were nonsensical, of course. Oz somehow exactly fit onto a rectangular page, but it didn’t matter, I loved the maps. As I grew up, I read other SFF books, some with nonsensical maps, some with very realistic maps, and some with none at all (sob!)

When I eventually started writing my own stories, maps were a part of them more often than not. Of course, my artistic skills were not always up to the task, but it never stopped me from trying.

During a recent spring cleaning, I came across a map I did for an SFF story about a dozen years ago (yes, I know, my city-naming wasn’t very creative back then.)

I thought I’d share how I created my draft map for the world of Arvia where my current stories are set.

My process: [geek alert – you have been warned]

I started with some pencil sketches I had done when I first started writing about Arvia, where I laid out the general geography and directions. Then it was time to whip out the ‘ol spreadsheet. Because nothing says fantasy like a good spreadsheet. I calculated the distance a person would walk in a day, the distance a horse-drawn wagon could cover in a day. Average donkey speed at walk and trot. Sailboats of various types. And finally attempted to calculate the average airspeed of a harpy. And yes, it’s a European harpy.

I created my scale, placed my points of interest, and based on this, drew in the basic geography. Then a few contour lines, final placement of points of interest, harpy territories (trust me, as a traveler in Arvia, this is important to know), and finally a few details like mountains and terrain (note: gif image of process).

I’m not quite finished with it yet, the terrain details still need work, and I need a texture for the water, but I’m happy with the basic layout. I’d like to include a map in my next book – we’ll see if I can get this one looking good, or if I hand it off to a competent artist.

Fellow map makers: how do you go about designing and creating maps?

Fellow map enthusiasts: what type of fantasy maps do you prefer? Something that looks geographically realistic? Perhaps realistic, but with some fantasy geography (floating islands, waterfalls 10 kilometers high)? Or whimsical designs that violate every law of physics?

4 Comments
  1. Quite an adventure in mapping! The gifs are a gift, and I took a couple of screen shots to better pause and study them. I see places on the map that don’t play a role in Harpyness and am intrigued by the possibilities in the next novel. Yes, I love maps but don’t find those in my GPS very satisfying. Just useful when they are accurate.

    • Thanks for dropping by. You know I set the gif to cycle that fast so you don’t have time to notice all the little flaws in the map.

  2. I remember that maps of OZ and of course Narnia! The LOTR maps are absolutely amazing, both the books and the films. I think it’s a beautiful addition to any piece of written work about a fantasy world. It’s also handy for a writer when the majority of the plot is a journey. If readers only knew how many maps of the Caribbean (then known as the West Indes) and the Mississippi River route to New Orleans I examined in order to write sailing into part in the year 1815!!!! I really appreciate the effort a writer takes to expand on the imaginary world they create.

    • Thanks for dropping by! I agree, for a journey story, it’s essential, but for any story a very nice addition.

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