Mapping for Writers

I love maps. As a writer and a gamer, I’ve created maps of worlds, dungeons, cities, space stations, villages, wormholes in space…anywhere a story might happen. I’ve also used real-world maps for stories set in–you guessed it–the “real world.” I find that maps help ground the story and help me visualize what’s happening.

Here’s my map of the fantasy world in The Seventh Crow (which is coming out soon! Like, this month soon!):

Ysterad map 2015 print

Okay, yes, I’m pretty happy with this one. It’s done in Photoshop, and I took a lot of time to get it just the way I wanted it. But it didn’t start out this way. It began as a pencil outline on graph paper, and it was pretty rough. It’s been through several incarnations on the way to this, including a hand-colored one I used in a D&D campaign for a while. But the act of creating the world–no matter how rudimentary it is, is the important part. By creating the environment, you are also thinking about everything and everyone in that environment.

This video by Peter Deligdisch explains this much better than I can:

As the artist explains, one thought about the world can lead to the next, to the next, to the next, when creating your map (and you do not need to be as talented as he is–it can work for anyone). Graph paper or hex paper is your friend (and you can download and print of either of these here).

If you really think you can’t tackle creating a map on your own, you can use a map generator (yes, just Google “map generator”) to do some of the work for you. You don’t have completely free creative rein with this method, but if you feel drawing-impaired it can be the next best thing.

If you’re just looking for inspiration, and not material to completely call your own, there are so many maps and plans already in existence online for role-playing games, that you need never lack for a visual representation of your story environs. This sort of resource is invaluable if you really need something visual to work out story logistics in your head, but you don’t need any sort of publishable plan or blueprint. I mean, look what searching for spaceship blueprints generator gets you.

Or again, you can make your own, as I did for the main character’s ship in One’s Aspect to the Sun (these, too, started out as sketches on graph paper. I transferred them to tracing paper at one point so I could line up the inter-deck hatchways):

DeckPlans-T-I

Maps can also make a lovely background for a book or ebook cover. Here’s one I created for a friend’s story:

20130914102723-Eyes-JulieThe map we started with was a barely-there representation, but with a little work it blossomed into a lovely backdrop for this cover.

Do you draw maps, plans, or blueprints for your stories? Do you spend a lot of time on them, or are you happy with a quick sketch? Share your thoughts in the comments!

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