I’ve yet to digitally design a map for the high fantasy novel I’m working on, but I’ve started on a rough pencil sketch of it. Truthfully, designing a map takes more thought than some writers realize. You can’t slap a few places together and expect everything to make sense. There are things to consider.
- Firstly, if you’re designing a map for high fantasy, you want to study your manuscript closely to determine how long it takes characters to travel from one place to the next. Once you have the gist of the landscape and how large the world is, you can begin drawing your map (or hiring someone to draw it for you). For example, a place that takes your characters two days to reach from their hometown must not be sitting directly next to the town when a cave to the south that takes a single day to find is farther away. Yes, this sounds obvious, but when drawing these places on a map, everything must be drawn in proportion. X-inches will be x-miles, for instance, and this unit of measurement has to be constant.
- Place names should not be crowded and the map itself should be easy to read and understand. It helps if there is colour involved, but many maps in books are black and white. You have to remember that no one other than you really understands the world you’ve created and readers will be confused if you don’t design the map clearly.
- It’s good to have an understanding of the real environment. Rivers run downhill; forests usually cover a wide expanse of land. Knowing little things like these can help you design your map.
- Study up on real maps. This one is pretty obvious, but just like reading a book in the genre you write in to better understand it, studying maps of real places in the world is great to understand how to make one yourself.
I recommend heading over to the Cartographers’ Guild if you want to study how other mapmakers design their maps. There are resources, helpful advice, and tons of maps to check out.