Having a solid mapped world in fiction writing cannot be emphasized enough because of the importance these imaginary worlds play in the overall story, it becomes even more important when your fantasy is based in an imaginative or a non-natural setting which the reader is not familiar with.
Without the maps being represented in your story, the characters within will no longer face tangible settings and will not face any restrictions that one would in reality. A lack of an imaginary world will make your fantasy more of a vague utopia without much for the reader to paint an image in their mind.
In this post, we are going to discuss some tips for mapping a world so that you can improve your story and build imaginary worlds that resonate with the readers so that they can paint a vivid image in their mind, making the entire experience all the more captivating.
Draw inspiration and conduct research
It is very a challenging task for a writer to completely come up with a fictional world and develop the details all by themselves. It is because of this reason many writers turn to look for influences and inspiration to map a world for their fantasy novel.
This inspiration can come from many different sources including history and culture, other related works, and sci-fi (speculating how may technology change in the future). You can combine these sources to draw inspiration from and build your own map.
However, whatever you draw inspiration from, it is imperative that you also conduct further research. This is because you will pick up on more information, and as a result, mapping your imaginative world would become easier as you would be able to incorporate more details and provide a solid tangible setting for the story.
Think about the relevant details
Once you have drawn inspiration and have done your research, you will have many different details in your mind. It is then vital that you map out the details relevant to your story. Have many versions of your map, experiment with the details, and figure out what works & what doesn’t.
Imagine the novel A Song of Ice and Fire without all the minute details—the mountains, the cities, the weather, the bodies of water—all these details brought out the life in the novel and allowed us to paint an image in our mind which put the readers in the shoes of the different characters of the novel series, taking them on an epic journey.
Whatever your setting is, map out every single detail so that the story relates somewhat to reality and that the readers can truly experience the story you are portraying. Don’t be afraid of having different maps because as you make more maps, you gradually become better at them. However, don’t dive yourself too deep into the details when describing them because it will then interrupt the flow of the story. Rather, maintain your focus on the story’s plot. However, this is not a hard and fast rule, the level of details depends on the breadth of your story.
Remember to address the different cultures, languages, and other aspects
An interesting aspect that you can incorporate into your imaginary world is the difference of cultures, languages, and dialects among the people that live in your fantasy world. As your character travels through the vast lands of your imaginary world, adding the change in culture, language, and dialect can be something with which the reader can relate with.
Unfortunately, such diversity is rarely reflected in fantasies but integrating them would set your writing apart from others. You can use your timeline to figure out how many different cultures, languages, and dialects you want to integrate in your world. This was put to great use in the novel series A Song of Ice and Fire where the Dothraki were introduced. Their culture, language, and their land were all different. This added a completely new dimension to the novel and made it much more engaging for the readers as it brought a newness to the story.
Sketch the map
After thinking about the vast details of the map of your imaginary world, it pays dividends to sketch the map. Keeping all these details in your mind will produce a fusion which may not be very useful in building your fantasy world.
Understand the environment and attach a color to them. Remember that planets are round, draw your map with this mind when you are creating continents, water bodies, and land masses. However, you should also keep in mind, there are no rules. This is to make it easier for your reader to visualize and paint an image in their mind.
Think about the weather and whether it is cold or hot. Keep in mind that areas near the equator are hotter while areas near the poles are colder and develop your map according to this. Again, you are not restricted, and you don’t have to paint an Earth but as we mentioned above, it will be easier for the reader to digest and establish a sense of belonging.
Make sure that you maintain smooth transitions between different environments. A snowy area right next to a desert would not make much sense, you can use these extremes as places that can be inhabitable, and where no one dares to live in. The mixed weather in between these two extremes can be the place where your character lives, eats, and meets with new characters. You can also incorporate your character’s journeys to these extremes as well to make the overall story interesting and pique the curiosity of your readers.
With all these factors in mind, you can draw a map of the entire planet or the surroundings which your characters explore.
Select the illustration method
At this point, you must have developed some rough sketches of your map with many details which you might also want to add your book. If you are a talented artist who can produce a nicely hand-drawn map, it would make for a great addition to your fantasy novel. However, if you are not so talented at doing this or cannot afford to hire an artist, you can consider photo editing software such as Photoshop, Illustrator, or even the legendary Microsoft Paint. You can one-by-one draw the different components of your map such as the trees, the mountains, the water, land, cities, and settlements.
You can choose the background against which these components would be placed. You can add further details like texture (grass etc.), shading to give a feel about that place in the map, and other tiny details. However, remember not to make it too muddled or cluttered because if you and your reader can’t understand the map, it defies the purpose of adding a map to your fantasy novel. So, while making your map on digital software, keep legibility in mind.
Don’t be afraid to re-do it
As you map your world, new ideas and thoughts come into your mind. Don’t be afraid to re-do the map and expand it. The good thing about these digital maps is that you can make easy changes to them. So, make as many versions as you want to and portray your own imaginary world to your readers.
Properly mapping out a fantasy world in your novel is no doubt a challenging task with many details and aspects to it. However, following a series of steps and the tips we have given you; it will become a much easier task. Remember that a solidly mapped out world is very rewarding as your readers will be able to connect better with your story, be able to establish a sense of familiarity with the surroundings and the characters and embark themselves on an epic journey with the characters.