A Simplified Mapmaking Process - Guest Post
Hey everyone! Today's post is written by the lovely Cheyanne Murray, a fellow indie author! Cheyanne is a fantastic artist located in Canada, with her work shared on her Twitter and Instagram. Her art embodies the fantasy world she's been working on, currently titled WOAD, and her blog has tons of great writing tips, including folklore and bits of what life was like in medieval times.
Today, she's written up an excellent bare-bones How-To on mapmaking, using the program Wonderdraft. This is a great post for beginners or even someone more familiar with making maps, just to get back to basics.
A Simplified World Map-Making Process
Just to be clear, this will be a simplified mapmaking process for worldbuilders, so I won't be going deep into the science of everything.
The reason I'm making this note is that there are some worldbuilders out there who go more extreme in their process than I do. They change the moon and sun positions, or even add more, and that alters where the cold and hot points of your world will be, as well as season lengths and the intensity of said seasons. They also have to change their tidal patterns, landmass, and more.
For simplicity’s sake, I am going off of a world with our own sun and moon. By doing that, you know where it is in your world that has the coldest areas (north and south poles) and where would be the warmest.
Want to get to map creating? Here are the steps I follow:
Brainstorming. If you are already planning a city for your novel, it could help to gather some images that match your idea (Pinterest is often used for this). This will give you a rough idea of where the cities should sit on your map. For example: if your city is filled with palm trees, you know it is not going to be in a cold climate.
Landmass Size. If you want dramatically different climates between cities, keep in mind you will need to cover a great distance between them. For example, where I am in Canada gets about five months of snow, and for me to get somewhere warmer, like LA California, it will take about twenty-five hours of non-stop driving, and that is in a car and not horseback like most fantasy books. That tells you how big of a landmass you will need to have that dramatic of contrasting climates. For whatever reason, our continents also tend to be bigger at the top, and smaller at the bottom.
Mountains. Mountains happen when fault lines press together and push upwards. If you would like to get technical, you could draw fault lines onto your map, and that will tell you where your mountains should go. I always start with mountains because that is where rivers and streams generally start, and will also go into the topic of islands too.
Rivers. Rivers do not only flow south, but that is a common mistake in map-making. This is because we are told that rivers only flow downhill, and people tend to associate south with down. In reality, you have to think about your mountains as the highest point, and everything is downhill from there. That is why we get rivers that go all the way across Canada. So, start your rivers in the mountains, and continue them until they head out to sea. Do note that though rivers tend to join, splitting rivers is rarer. It happens, just not as often.
Lakes. Most lakes have one river or stream for drainage. Some lakes are fed by rivers, others are not.
Islands. There are different ways for islands to form, but the most common way is volcanoes. Volcanoes occur when tectonic plates crush and shift, and the lava from it forms a new island. So, if you drew in your tectonic plates, islands are more likely to be along with them.
Weather. Mountains do change the weather. For example, in my province, we have a desert, but a few hours into the mountains has a rainforest. Generally, the wetter temperatures tend to be on the coastal side of the mountains, and on the other side of the mountains, it sometimes (but not always) gets drier the further inland you go.
City and towns placement. This is last because typically (before we got modern pipes) settlements are only started near a water source. So all those rivers and lakes will be key for your placement of cities and towns. You will also have to think about the economy of the cities. For example, if you want a port city, put it somewhere where the waters will be calmer (like a bay). If you want a farming village, they are less likely to be at sea level on the coast or deep in the mountains and more likely to be in prairies.
Important Landmarks. This is if there are important places that should be on your map, like spiritual locations, natural beauties, and tourist attractions.
Forests. This step is optional. Most maps do not show where forests are. If you wish to include them in your map, do so here.
There you have it! If you followed all these steps, you should now have a map! To create a colored graphic of the map, you can use paid programs like Wonderdraft or World Anvil, or you can try the free version of websites like Inkarnate.
Alternatively, if you read all this and decided it is more work than you feel like doing, there are free fantasy map-generators like Azgaar’s Fantasy Map Generator, Donjon; Fantasy World Generator, or Mewo2Notes Generating Fantasy Maps.
So! What did you think of our first guest post? I've always been very intimidated by maps, but I do have a copy of Wonderdraft myself. It's such a nice program, but it'll take a bit more practice until I'm comfortable using it and to share anything, haha. I find Cheyanne's steps to make it a lot easier to break down the process of mapmaking, and I'm excited to use them for some of my worlds!
Do you make maps for your novels? What's your favorite program, or do you prefer to draw them traditionally? I'd love to hear your comments down below. Don't forget to like, share, and subscribe! See you next time!
Just as an FYI, I've finally joined Instagram! Join me on Insta for exclusive pictures and snippets of my books and WIPs.