Creating a Fantasy Map


ebookcover-darkthornThere are signs you might be reading an epic/high fantasy.

The story takes place in an imaginary world. The characters live in a medieval-type setting. There is often a hero’s journey type of quest. Maybe there is an elderly guide of some sort for the main protagonist. Where magic is needed for the resolution of the tale. And my favorite—the fantasy map.

Many authors believe fantasy maps are necessary to help aid in imagining the world and the paths the characters take. Readers often agree.

To aid in that realization, some writers create their own maps. Tad Williams is a perfect example of it. He created the maps in his epic fantasy trilogy Memory, Sorrow and Thorn. J.R.R. Tolkien drew maps as well.

Years ago, I wrote an epic fantasy novel, Song of of the Fell Hammer. I learned a harsh lesson with it. I got halfway into the story and realized I hadn’t fully fleshed out the world my characters would be journeying through. I had to stop and take time to create that world map. I drew it on my own in the style of Darrell K. Sweet’s work in The Elfstones of Shannara by Terry Brooks. It took three weeks of constant work that slowed the writing.

For my newest book, The Dark Thorn, I did not make the same mistake. I knew I had to do a bit more worldbuilding while I outlined the story and its characters’ paths. You can see that initial map below on the left:


Once I had finished the map, I began writing The Dark Thorn. It made life so much easier. Upon completion, I then hired great cartographer Russ Charpentier—the man responsible for the last decade’s worth of Terry Brooks maps—to beautify the map I had created.

As you can see, there is a progression in the maps I have posted. There were more than three steps from beginning to end but these were the major ones. I sent Russ my original. He called me to discuss the important cities and areas so that they would be reflected properly in the art. We had to make decisions concerning city size, mountain range configuration, the flowing of rivers, the style of map borders and Celtic knotwork needed.

After working on it for a week, he sent me a rough outline of what he was thinking, which you can see in the middle images above. I approved what he was doing and he went on to finish. The final he sent me is in color but I decided to make it grayscale for the book. I love how it turned out. It reflects my world of Annwn well.

And now as I begin writing the next book, The Everwinter Wraith, the map will help guide that story too and for hopefully many more afterward.

And it all began with arguably the most important part of worldbuilding—a map.

  • I think a map is a very important step in writing a fantasy novel. When you have in mind the story and all details, you have to draw the map.
    I like to write and to draw also, so I can draw myself the map for my future novels 😀

  • Bill Cornette

    Glad to hear that a map helps the writer structure the story. It also helps the reader, particularly early in a new book, where the strange new names of places are not yet remembered. I know with a new book, I frequently go to the map (when provided) to remember where everything is. Later, as the place names and their locations become more familiar, I need the map less, but I never stop using the map.

  • Rob C

    Nice map I notice the unoriginal map is of Wales with all the correct Welsh names for places like Anglesey etc I think the original map is of the area during the period King Offa built the Dyke to keep the Welsh out of what was becoming England this is during the so called Dark Ages around 700AD up to when William came over the channel 1066.
    Good idea to use an original map as the river catchment and mountainous areas look realistic so many fantasy maps have maps where the landscape looks really odd where you wonder what sort of geology could have created the landscape.

  • A map was definitely a must for me. I also had to sketch interiors for key buildings. The maps were as much for me as for my readers, just so that I could keep the landscapes straight. You know how a picture is worth a thousand words, even the crappy sketches I drew.

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