Make your own free website on
World Building and Story Development
Home | World Building Physical | Cultural Development | Story Development | Character Development | Me, I, and Myself | Links and All

There are just a few steps on this page, and none of those questions.

This is how I did it, and how I read a famous author did it. I just made sure to incorporate science as I went. This is for physical first.

Step 1: Make a random doodle.
Step 2: Refine your doodle 3 days later.
Step 3: Add islands, rivers, lakes, mountains.
Step 4: Add forests, plains, and the other physical features.
Step 5: Add your nations.
Step 6: Add your districts and towns.
Step 7: Star naming things. Make sure the names are linguistically consistent with the local language sounds used by the locals
Step 8: Refine and define, refine and define, refine and define.

The other way.
Step 1: Make a random doodle.
Step 2: Refine your doodle 3 days later.
Step 3:Add your nations
Step 4: Add the physical things but make sure they are related to your nations.
Step 5: Refine and define, refine and define, refine and define.

There is a lot of good software for maps if you don't want to do you map yourself.

Make many copies because you never know when you'll need a copy that’s not messed up.
Below this sentence is a map making tutorial.
Mapping and Map Making from Fantasy Map Making by Arthur List

Beginning Basics
The cartographer requires a few materials to maximize his/her working potential. Paper, obviously, is a must. Sometimes doodling a map on the wall of your Vertebrate Zoology class is fine, but to really create a good map, you need paper. For the rough draft I recommend lined, loose paper. This will suit you fine until you have the map totally laid out. For the middle drafts, I recommend regular, loose leaf, printing paper. This will give you a clear view of your rivers, shorelines, etc. And for the final, all important draft I recommend the semi-sturdy, thick paper that has the flexibility of construction paper and that does not allow ink to seep through it.
Pencils and pens are the prime drawing tools of a map maker, but I find hi-lighters, colored pencils, and even crayons useful for indicating separate things on the rough and middle drafts. A regular, 2 hardness pencil is fine for making your first draft, and erases very well. A good pen is a definite must. Any final draft that you do must be in a good, well defined black ink. Regular BICTM pens leave a greasy ink, and I prefer micro-point ball-point pens for my maps.
People make mistakes. Cartographers definitely are people. In this light, you will need a very good eraser. I prefer the large gum erasers that rub off very easily and leave almost nothing stuck to the paper. Likewise, they leave the paper in place. Other erasers have a tendency to leave pink streaks on the paper, or they tear a swath of paper away where they erase. I like my paper intact, so I refrain from using the eraser on the end of my pencil on my middle and final drafts.
You are going to need a well lit, flat area to work. A desk is a good place (go figure), and the kitchen island is a nice place to spread your maps around. Just make sure that you pick them up when you leave, or you might return to find a splotch of spaghetti sauce smeared over the Halian Mountains. Do not work in direct sunlight, for the paper you are working on will reflect so brightly as to strain your eyes.

The research
Look around. There are many fine maps in many fine books in many not so great book stores. If you like someone's style, memorize the way they form their mountains, trees, rivers, and whatnot. Remember that imitation is the highest form of respect, and is not something to hide from. You will find that after a few tries at your first maps, you detect a sort of style all your own. Work with it, it will help you learn. Try to draw someone else's maps in your own way, and see how it turns out. I recommend the maps by J.R.R. Tolkien (the original ones, by either he or his son Christopher). If you look around, you will undoubtedly find something by Shelly Shapiro. These, being fairly rudimentary maps (no offense, but it's true), are easily improved on. Read through these sections of this page for notes on certain styles: Rivers, Forests, Mountains, Hills, Valleys, and Fells, Swamps, Miscellaneous Landmarks: Have fun with it.

Getting Started
You should by now have a fair idea as to the requirements for any fantasy map. Now go and draw one. Seem a little terse? It needs to be. You, with all of your promise, need to practice. Like anything, this undertaking needs a lot of experience to become proficient at it. Draw a large map, and then "zoom" in on the seperate sections of it. Decide whether you need to perfect your mountain form or your river path. If you do, fill an entire sheet of paper with your practice forms. Do it until it seems like second nature.

Trial and error
Now that you can draw the forms, you need to decide how time affects your land. Which mountains are older? Have they been worn down or built up by the wind and rain? Which rivers seem to be the main ones? Are they big enough? Do your forests occur in a natural pattern? If not, why don't they? Ask yourself these and other questions like these to see if your map makes sense with itself. Keep in mind that your world most likely isn't perfectly flat, and that rivers will run into the low places. Use common sense, and your map should come out coherent and believable.
You might have to redraw your map many times, as you are confronted with new revelations as to its content. If you are not sure that something will fit in with the rest of the map, draw it in anyway. So what if you have to redo the entire thing? It will fill up time before you die.

The making of a world
By now, you are probably deciding where certain things should go in the political or racial scheme. Countries are forming in your land, as are the kings and queens that govern them. Go with your ideas. The best part about writing a world is the development. You can spend hours with a good map, deciding who runs what and why. If your friends and family start thinking you a bit strange, smile and bear it like a badge of honor. It's good to be different. How many people can brag about truly being able to drift off into their own world? Not as many as there should be.

Your style is a part of you. You might say that your style is like mine, or Tolkien's, but it is really only your style. Maybe your particular style is better than mine. Maybe you are so good that people bow down to you in the street. Maybe you are so good that people say that they draw maps like you. You tell them that no one draws maps like you and to get up out of the mud, got it? Style is nothing to flaunt. Let people admire you, don't force them to. Trust me, I wouldn't like it if you came into the room one day and told me that you were better than me. Try to copy someone's style, but recognize the presence of your own creativity. A person in the street should be able to say "Oh! That's one of Bobby's maps!", not "Now is that Sue's, Tom's, or Bobby's map?"

Stick to one style
Coherence in a map is one of the prime goals of it's artist. You want your mountains to look like the other mountains, to a certain degree. Uniformity is to be discouraged, but make sure that your map is pleasant enough. A well designed map will have that aesthetic appeal that draws people into it: it should be a story in itself, not just a reference. Look at layout for ideas on how to keep your map looking good. But be sure to remember that it is the little flaws and differences in a map that make it personal. That is why fantasy editors hire a person to make maps: a computer generated image is only good so far.

Teach yourself
Teach yourself what you like to do with your maps. If you like to place mountains in a way that is contradictory to someone else's style, go ahead and do it. Forge ahead into previously unexplored areas of your map and change them to suit you. After all, the map is really meant to please you. I do not know of an artist that painted pictures that he didn't like. If you do, then you are more enlightened than me.

Some rules are definite.
There are, however, some rules to mapmaking that apply everywhere. For instance: do not make your mountains three inches tall and 3 centimeters wide. Just use common sense. Rivers always follow the river rules, unless a magical force or something is holding them at bay.

The experiment:
Now comes the test of your skill. Find a book that you have never read, and that has a good (or not so good) map. Make sure that you do not study the map in detail: just glance at it. Now comes the hard part. Tear the map from the book carefully, making sure not to rip it in half. Be sure that the book is a cheap soft-cover, and not a first edition Fellowship of the Ring. Normally I would be appalled at the thought of mutilating a book in such a way, but it is necessary. Quickly now, make a rude sketch of the map, tracing it's features through your memory. This sketch should show the placing of mountain chains, shorelines, and maybe some forests. Rivers are not required, as they are very hard to remember. Now, read the book a few times. In the mean time, practice your maps. Anything will do. I usually go off in a corner and jot down a new little world, and then work off of that. After reading the book for the third time, trace your way through it and add to your map. Once you think the map is complete, revise it and compare it to the real map. What went wrong? What went right? Why? If you wish, practice this a few times. It is only really necessary once.

This section will cover the properties of the layout of your map. You will learn where and how to place landforms, and what to do about balancing and toning your map. I will discuss each major landform in turn, and then provide you with a short list of hints on using those landforms to their utmost potential.

The concept of balance
Anyone with a bit of knowledge of art should know about balance. Balance is keeping your picture proportional to the opposite side, with no place being 'weightier' than another. Balance in maps is a thing of true delicacy: you have to have places where you draw absolutely nothing, and yet you need places where the concentration of image is the greatest. Avoiding these two things can be the downfall of an otherwise truly wonderful map.
All maps need open, flat places and dark, clustered images. To avoid the clumping of each I recommend long mountain chains and rivers and many small clusters of images as though they were netted together into one big mesh. Try to spread that mesh so that the holes on it are of uniform size and shading. Presto-chango, you have balance. You don’t have to but it makes the eye take it in easier.

Overview is where the map is seen from: usually from high above. Why take overview seriously? Because with overview comes distance, size, and shading. The distance part of it is fairly obvious. The higher up you seem to be, the greater the distance it is between any two given points on the paper. Keep this in mind when deciding how big your land is. If you want to show 18,000 miles worth of land on one paper, you're going to have to draw very small. If you want to show one mile, however, your images should be larger. Shading is a tough part of your map. You have to decide where the light source of the map is, and stick to it. You can't have mountains shaded on different sides right next to each other: it doesn't look good.

Dead space
Ah, blank space, the scourge of cartographers everywhere. What to do with blank space? Usually you would want to leave it alone. Sometimes, though, you need something there to achieve balance. I recommend a compass rose or a distance gauge to fill in some of the larger spaces. Vary the types of images you use to the need for balance; you do not want to upset the balance in just the opposite way by filling in too much!

Names and Places
Place names can make or break a map. Here I will discuss the nuances of naming your map and it's locations, and why you should not use too many apostrophes in your names.

Name style
There it is again! Style. It applies to naming your map as well as drawing it. Here we will discuss the different parts of names, and how they affect your map. Here is a list of the most common styles:
Cliché - avoid names like "Skull Mountain" at all costs
Guttural - Dwarves, Orcs, Trolls, etc. all talk in a guttural form of speech.
Noble - Elven. What else can I say?
Archaic - Good for medieval fantasy
Original - The best type. Make up your own language and let the good times roll!
Alien - Languages that are so far away from human sounding as to be unpronounceable. Avoid these if you want a map people will remember.
Cultural - Jamaican sounding words go with the Jamaican culture. You will never hear a dragon say "Ya mon!" .
Now to discuss each of the above in more detail:
Cliché- Do you want your audience to take you seriously? If so, do not use names like "The Black Pit of Despair." They will get you some serious scorn. Any time a barbarian muscle-man with an anorexic half-elf thief defeats the skull demon with the Sword of shadows, I have to laugh out loud. This kind of writing is cheap and terrible, and in lieu of that, you should keep your names realistic, too.
Guttural- Guttural names are that like "Orglub" or "Gloningor." They should be used sparingly, for they do get tedious. Cluster them in one or two places, if you want, to represent the location of a culture. Guttural names use the uncommon letters b, g, d, z, and ng more commonly, to create a sound made deep in the throat.
Noble - Noble names make use of soft, voiceless sounds to produce easily read, pronounceable words. Usually the names mean something fair in a given "noble" language: leaf-dew or grass-swan. Use th, ch, s, a n, l, and r as your main letters to create noble names.
Archaic - Medieval names. Arthur and Vanion, Gawain and Pendragon are all well known examples of medieval names. Use sounds increasing or decreasing in tone to form original medieval sounding names. Ai, oi, (v)r and (v)l are good examples of rising and falling tones.
Original- Make up your own language. There are many web pages out there on this subject.
Alien- These languages are irrelevant to my fantasy maps, but I will discuss them a little. These languages, like Klingon, are hard to pronounce, due to the author's stereotypes of alien nature. But most likely aliens would have no oral similarity to us at all, and would therefore not speak to our understanding. You decide what you should do.
Cultural- These names can "link" your fantasy world with Earth. Have you ever wondered why the fantasy movie heroes always have a British accent? Puzzle around with this one - it's a lot of fun.

Anything to say? Questions?
Email me at
or my space me at ciarinegadrine. .