Questions for my Readers, Writing Tips

World Building Tips: Map Making

Over the next month or so, I will be posting seven different post all about world building in novels—specifically for fantasy or sci-fi novels which literally take place in a different world, but if you are working with other genres, then there might be a few things which will interest you, too.

Early this year, I had to do a ton of world building work—not because I was starting a new novel but because I needed to fix a novel which I had already written. And oh! did I wish that I had taken care of my world building sooner! Now that I am mostly finished with fixing my world, I wanted to share a few tips which I discovered.

This post is about the most basic part of your world: its geography, and the simplest way to start on geography is to make a map.

World building tips blog post

Now, I definitely am not an artist, so I can’t give you many tips on how to draw your world. My first maps were woefully simple, but I was fortunate enough to find a friend who made a beautiful map on the computer for me.

Here are several tips and things to remember when you create your map.

  1. Make your world at least twice as large as what you need. If your characters will be traveling 300 miles, then make the world at least 600 miles wide. However, I would recommend making the world even larger. You may even want to develop full continents where you don’t even plan to have your characters travel. This gives your story a more realistic feeling and gives you the flexibility to expand your “travel plans” as needed or even write a sequel later.

See, I’ve highlighted the area in which my first novel takes place. It is tiny compared to my whole world!

MapofNokri'ahAreaoffirstbook

  1. No world is flat. *Unless it is Narnia 😉 So many fantasy worlds are imagined by the authors as if they are flat, and the truth is that worlds are spheres! (Unless you actually address why your world is flat in your novel like C. S. Lewis did in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader.) So is the majority of your world covered by water like the Earth, or is it mainly covered by land with only a few places that have water? Even if your characters do not know that their world is round, you should know as the writer!

I’d suggest buying a one dollar inflatable ball from the store and drawing a quick sketch of your world on it with a sharpie. Of course, you won’t be able to put anything like that in your novel, but it is great for thinking it through.

  1. Your world should probably have multiple climates. If your world is anything like Earth, it should be cold up north, then warm near the middle, and finally cold again in the far south. And insides of that you could have rain forests, pine forests, savannas, deserts, etc. Of course, you could be dealing with a planet that is farther away from the sun (like the fictional Hoth from Star Wars) or a planet that is closer and is extremely hot all the way around. So this tip might not apply to your story.
Annual mean temperature around the world (from the most reliable source: Wikipedia)

 

  1. Are there stars? Now this is not totally necessary, but sometimes it is cool to think out a couple of constellations for your story. Unless you are an astronomer, I wouldn’t suggest trying to figure out when each star appears or come up with thousands of constellations. But it could be a cool addition to your story to have four or five constellations or stars which appear (especially if they are tied into a myth or become a symbol for something.) If you have read the Lord of the Rings, you know how Eärendil’s story ties into the stars, and how that can add a lot of depth to a book.
Cartoon from AstralGuardian on deviantart

 

  1. Convert your map to an electronic form either by scanning it or creating it using some type of software. I have found this helpful several reason. First, I can print out multiple copies of it, so I can draw various travel lines on each copy without compromising the original. The second reason I do this is so I can measure exactly how far my characters travel. I open up the map in a certain computer program (Gimp), and I can use a tool to measure various distances on the map in pixels. Then I can convert the measurement in pixels to miles or leagues or whatever distance I am using. This is super helpful when I need to know how long a trip will take.

Also since, I have always converted by maps to some electronic form, and it is cool to see how they have transformed over time!

MapofNokri'ahallpng

I hope this was helpful, and I would love to hear about how you created your worlds! It is always fun to share ideas and learn about other people’s stories.

Also at the end of each of the world building posts, I will put a list of the seven topics which I will be covering. As I write and post about each topic, I will go back and fill in all the links on every page.

World Building Series:

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18 thoughts on “World Building Tips: Map Making”

  1. In reference to the flat world, you could do something like what Tolkien did with Middle Earth, when he had it start out flat, and then bent it so that the humans couldn’t get to Valinor. I think it’d be hard to do anything like that without obviously copying Tolkien, but I’m not a writer, just an editor, so you guys might have some ideas about it.

    Also, I would suggest brushing up on your geography terms, and adding in a few of those features, as well as squiggling a bit on most of the land/sea borders. Gabrielle, it looks like you did a good job of this, although if you really had the time, you could add a few more intelligent squiggles, if you know what I mean.

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    1. Honestly, I am not sure that Middle Earth is flat, Zane… and I don’t think that humans physically can’t get to Valinor; I believe that the Valar simply stop/confront/destroy/set-to-sail-eternally-in-the-sky-as-a-star mortal ships when they try to sail too far. Sorry, I digress, but I do understand what you are saying. I am simply suggesting that if you choose to have a flat world, you need to cover why in your novel.
      Yes, I do need to do that. I’ve never really taken a proper geography course, so that is probably the cause of my ignorance. I get what you mean and thanks for the suggestion, but I think that my time might be better spent working on other things that figuring out exactly how a shore line should be.

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    2. Middle Earth was originally flat, and everyone who wanted to could sail to Valinor, but some time after the Numenorians attacked Valinor, they decided that, even though they had all of these mountains and other things in the way, it was still too easy for a Man to get to Valinor, and either the Valar or Illuvatar, I forgot which one, bent the earth, but left Valinor where it was, effectively blocking anyone without an Elvish ship (they would still sail on the original plane of Middle Earth, essentially flying through the clouds) from getting to Valinor. It’s in the Silmarillion.

      I wasn’t meaning to say that you were ignorant of geography terms. In fact, when I said that, I wasn’t talking to anyone specific. It was just meant to be general advice (because who actually remembers all those geography terms?). I understand that your time can be better spent, and the map’s pretty good as it is (I’d probably be more enthusiastic about it if I had anything other than Tolkien maps and outer space maps to go off of, but I don’t, so just know that when I say “pretty good,” I’m comparing you to Tolkien), but I just wanted to throw the idea out there. I am, after all, your editor 🙂

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      1. Right, I had forgotten about that (I was thinking about before that how the mortal Eärendil was able to sail part of the way before the Valar stopped him.) Didn’t the bending happen after the Island of Numenor was drowned under the sea for worshiping Morgoth? I don’t remember the Numenorians actually attacking the Valinor, though. I should probably reread the Silmarillion; it has been a few years!
        Oh, I didn’t take it wrong, and I really appreciate that you point things like that out. There are a lot of things that I would like to do, but I have to prioritize. I know. It is pretty depressing whenever I think of my story in comparison to Tolkien’s works, so I try not to (and I also think about how he spent decades working on his work and was a masterful linguist.) Then I don’t feel so bad.

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      2. Yes, Middle Earth was bent after Numenor was drowned, which actually happened as a direct result of them attacking the Valar. The Valar decided that they couldn’t stop them, or didn’t want to, or something like that (it’s been a bit since I’ve read it, too), so they asked Illuvatar for help, and he sunk Numenor, and swallowed up their entire fleet in the chasm.

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  2. Your World Building Series is a life saver! I’ve just started writing for an original story and I’ve been having some difficulty on some aspects of creating a realistic (yet at the same time a fantastical) setting for it. This is great, thank you for all the hard work and effort. God bless!

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