5 Tips – Drawing Maps


5 World Building Tips (Vol 2, #11): Drawing Maps

Here are today’s world building tips! The theme is drawing maps. You can read more in Bonus Chapter 12, “Drawing a Map”, from Creating Places, (The Art of World Building, #2).

Tip #1: “You Don’t Need Drawing Skill”

With modern map making programs like Campaign Cartographer, you don’t need drawing skills to create maps. I can’t draw to save my life and have made maps I publish with my works, including Creating Places. You just place pre-existing icons for trees, mountains, and settlements and can rearrange them. It takes some imagination but quickly becomes fun to do.

Tip #2: “Maps Help Us Invent Conflict”

As we draw land features and seas, we can imagine conflicts between kingdoms about who has access to something and who doesn’t, then what they have to do to form agreements – or go to war with each other over it. Even if we don’t want to write about such things, the sovereign powers from where our characters originate are engaged in these conflicts and hatreds or friendships and our characters will have attitudes based on this. It’s worth doing!

Tip #3: “Use Earth Analogues”

If you have no idea what to draw, just steal somewhere on Earth and purposely do a poor job of drawing the country outline. You can include all the same land features and no one will recognize what it’s based on. You could draw the US with a different shape and then cut it in half, too, or add a sea in middle. A major change like that makes it less recognizable.

Tip #4: “Be Smart About Regional Maps”

Even if you only want to draw a map of a region, not the whole continent, think about the continent anyway. Things like mountain ranges, prevailing winds, and rain shadows will still affect your region. You can just make a note to yourself that the wind is from “that way” and there’s a mountain range “over there,” too. So don’t draw them but still think about them.

Tip #5: “No One Expects a Settlement Map”

It can be fun to use City Designer (from ProFantasy) to create city maps, but no one’s expecting one in your books. Only do this if you feel the need to lay out a place, which can be only filled in with the most important buildings you desire. It’s also more worthwhile if the layout is very specific and hard to describe succinctly to an audience, in which case they’ll appreciate a map.

Summary of Bonus Chapter 12—Drawing Maps
Village Map
Village Map

While drawing maps is optional in world building, they can help us visualize where everything’s taking place, and if done well, can even be included in published works. Drawing skill isn’t really needed, as modern map making programs allow us to place pre-existing shapes onto a map and move them around. Continent maps help us decide on the location and quality of land features like mountains, forests, and deserts so that we create a realistic ecosystem. The location of settlements, rivers, and bodies of water will also impact the stories and lives of characters we create. We can also draw settlement, dungeon, and ship maps to solidify our decisions and find new inspiration in our layouts.


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