Whether it’s a continent map or just a region of one, we should consider the merits of creating a map and how to do so. We can create one ourselves or hire artists for a few hundred dollars, which is comparable to the cost of book covers but which can be used repeatedly.
Should You Draw One?
For a world that an author will only use for a short story or one book, a map may not be needed or worth the time, but worlds we’ll use often (across a series or not) will benefit from maps. The more the characters travel through the wilderness, the more likely this need is. Even stories that take place primarily in cities might need a regional map if the audience must follow two or more storylines that are concurrently happening in different locations that the audience struggles to understand; Games of Thrones comes to mind. A city-centric tale has little use for continent maps unless referencing nearby locations, whereupon a regional map is helpful. Game designers may need one for the same reasons, even outside of digital gaming, where it is often mandatory.
If we want to calculate travel times, a map can help us measure with accuracy, even if we decide our map isn’t drawn to scale. We can discover problems with intended time frames in our story and find adjustments that might be creative. If a journey will happen too fast, we can cause calamity to slow our travelers. We might use magic, steeds, or technology to increase travel rates. Or we can change our story. If we’d like to cite specific distances, like “it is one hundred kilometers to Illiandor by horse and it will take two days riding hard,” we can make such statements with greater confidence.
Drawing maps can be fun and may provide ideas for both stories and setting. Chapter 1 on “Case Studies” provides examples. But if we don’t want to draw one, there’s a good way around this: base locations on Earth ones. We might use England, France, and Spain as our respective countries, calling them something else. In our notes, we can just write that “Illiandor is England,” for example, and even use its geography. Readers will never know unless we provide a map with a familiar shape. We can do this on a smaller scale as well, such as using the provinces of Canada as different countries, even while changing the latitude to something balmier near the equator.