Mapping out your world

TGKQ map by Steven Sandford

Maps are a staple of the fantasy genre. Sometimes, even if it’s contemporary urban fantasy, I want a map showing me relevant sections of the urban setting (though for real-world cities, we always have Google). If it’s period/historical, it can be great to have a map of how a place was at the time your story takes place.

I happened to be connected with an experienced fantasy map artist when I first self-published, and we negotiated a good price for a large hand-drawn map, plus a digital scan of it to send to the publishing service I used. The original is sitting on top of a box in an inexpensive plastic frame because I can’t yet afford a good one of the correct size, and it makes a great display piece for book fairs.

Here are a few minor considerations for mapping a place which has never been. You don’t have to follow any of these, but just in case they haven’t crossed your mind…

“Mountains that spew fire” – Are there any active volcanoes known to your mapped world? These can be a nice touch for some mountain range in your world, even if it’s not one that gets much use in your story.

Not every border needs to be set at a mountain range. If you need a reason why a shore wouldn’t make for a good landing or it’s difficult to get through somewhere, remember deserts, swamps/bayous, and other environmental/geographical features.

What’s the scope of your mapped world? In my case, it’s one known continent, and only the parts immediately relevant to the story are actually shown; I can always commission an expanded map if I’m lucky enough to publish a sequel. But once you know that, consider: is the southern part near an ice cap? The northern part? Neither? What would the climate expectations be living in each particular part of a map?

Do your rivers defy gravity, running up mountains instead of down from glaciers? They probably don’t, but this was funny to think about.

Are there any standard nautical routes to mark? Are there any warnings about where one ought not sail, due to reefs, sandbars, Longnecks, tentacle monsters, sirens etc.?

Good luck and happy cartography.

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