What is an epic fantasy novel without a map?
Just like we need Siri to tell us how to find the closest café or, if you prefer, the closest wine bar, a properly built fantasy world should have a way to navigate through it. Otherwise the reader is running around blind, sometimes struggling to visualize how close Mordor really is to Ithilien and the city of Minas Tirith, or how Frodo and Sam were so far from everything green and good in the Shire. Charting your basic course is not so hard, the map creates itself as your characters journey across the land, sea, or even air, and you should be drawing the landscape and marking the cities along the way. But once you get to the final draft, how do you decide what that final masterpiece of a map is going to look like?
There is no end to the way maps can look. And I urge you to explore different styles, including black and white, because, after all, it’s going to end up in a printed book someday, right? Play around with different variations. Find something that fits the design style of the world your characters live in. Use the frame area for designs and symbols that are critical to the world’s inhabitants. What do their deities look like? How are they represented? These images will look amazing turned into line art as they adorn the edges of your map, and will make the world become even more real for your reader.
The map I created for The Shifting Balance uses symbols for each city. The elements of Air, Water, Earth, and Fire play a huge role in the magic and religious aspects of the people. I used symbols for each element and painted them with Photoshop along the frame. I plan on trying out different looks and styles, using sepia tones and stain marks to give it an aged look. I still want to add some chart lines for realism, adding to the nautical related line art and compass rose within. And don’t forget that compass rose! The moment a familiar shape like this is added, your map is suddenly a real place, torn from the pages of a historical document from a museum! It’s all in the details, and the best place to look on how best to create it is by looking at others. Books and gaming are both filled with beautiful maps; even old maps from our own world offer up details that will make your fantasy world more authentic.
For more ideas and inspiration on maps, and even some tutorials on how to draw them, visit and follow my Pinterest Board that I created just for you! Fantasy Maps
Now for something completely different…
What if you wanted something new and different? How about a map that looks like it could have been a photograph taken from space? In all my searches I haven’t found a single fantasy map that looked like a Google Earth image. So I decided to play with this idea, and here is what I came up with:
I created a tutorial for those of you who want to give it a try. It was actually pretty easy. If you want to learn how, follow this link: Tutorial on how to make your map look like Google Earth
I use a free 3D art program called Blender 3D, some free NASA Photos, and Photoshop. Don’t want to take the time to learn Blender? That’s all right, you can do the same thing using Google Earth images. Just be sure to turn off all the labels before taking a screenshot. Good luck and have fun!
No matter how you decide to create your map, experiment and set your imagination free. Both you and your readers will be rewarded for your extra attention to detail.
Already made a map? Share it with us in the comments below!
Fantasy Worlds Map: http://flavorwire.com/376822/brilliant-spoofs-of-the-classic-fantasy-novel-map
Melissa Berg is the author of the Shifting Balance Series, which has been her passion for the past ten years. She also works as an illustrator and studied art and design at Madison Area Technical College in Madison, Wisconsin. When she isn’t writing or painting or entertaining her son, she is pursuing the art of 3D computer illustration/animation, as a side project and to feed her fascination in the ever-expanding medium used for storytelling. She currently lives in Minnesota with her husband, young son, and a crazy Border Collie.
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