One of the fun aspects of fantasy world building is drawing maps. This blog provides some ideas to keep in mind and tools to help. Some of this is kind of obvious but worth mentioning anyway.
Where to Start
A good working unit is the continent. Despite the term “world building,” fantasy authors usually write stories on a single continent. Even if your story will take place in a smaller region, it helps to know what is around it. You can add additional continents later.
Even with a continent as your working unit, you may want to start with a few settlements (villages, towns, or cities) and a forest, river/lake, and a mountain range to go with them. If you start by drawing the entire continent edge, you might later regret it when trying to fill it in with land features that you might not have room for without changes. A good strategy is to draw a single coastline near where you are starting, then work outward and around.
Keep a list of what you want to include, such as a desert, jungle, bays, cliffs, volcanoes, and anything else less common than the standard mountains, rivers, lakes, and forests. You’ll want to make sure you leave a place for them. Nearby islands can be added any time.
When creating a continent, there will always be many more things on it than you can actually draw, whether rivers, forests, or settlements, because it would look too crowded. For example, a map of the United States, which isn’t even a whole continent, is so big that only the largest rivers are shown.
Which Hemisphere is It In?
Is your continent above, below, or overlapping the equator (and by how much)? Or is it directly over the north pole? This will help determine where a jungle, glaciers, swamp or deserts are likely to be, if they exist at all. Obviously a glacier is toward the poles. Jungles are often tropical. A desert can be almost anywhere, really.
This may affect what areas are accessible by ship during winter. If creating sea and land creatures, their typical range will be affected. If you’ve lived in the northern hemisphere all your life but are creating a continent in the southern one, remember that colder areas are south, not north. An expression like “heading south for the winter” would get reversed.
Historically, people build near water to have a steady drinking supply, to dispose waste in, and for transporting goods. The biggest cities tend to grow from a particularly useful spot on a river, lake, or by the ocean. You can’t drink ocean water, of course, so such port settlements often have a river emptying into the ocean there, too.
Of course, you don’t have to explain to readers where everyone gets their water from, but if you plop a settlement near a water source but not right next to it, people will wonder why; similarly, the oldest part of your city will be the one next to the water. The size of that water source will also help determine how large a settlement can grow. Lakes and large rivers support more people than a stream. Since you’re drawing major rivers, put cities and towns by them.
Remember that any city will have smaller towns nearby, and the towns will have villages near. You don’t need to draw everything, however. I typically skip villages altogether when drawing a continent-sized map. It’s only for a close-up that I might add them.
In part 2 we’ll look at some basic geography considerations.
- World building (andrewknighton.wordpress.com)
Without cities, towns, and villages, no fantasy world building project is complete. In part 1, we’ll look at some things to consider. Part 2 will be the template I use for creating a new settlement. Location, Location, Location No settlement stands alone. A city has towns nearby, and towns have villages nearby. However, when drawing […]
Below is the template I use when creating a fantasy city during world building. Feel free to adapt it your purposes. You can read Part 1 here. Download the PDF or Word template. City/Town Name General Alliances Independent city or part of a kingdom? Allies? Identification Symbol and Banner: City Colors: Slogans: Famous For What […]
Depending on your ability, creating names for people, places, and beings in fantasy books can either be fun or a pain. I’ve been doing this for three decades and will provide some tricks and thoughts to help. KISS KISS doesn’t really stand for “keep it simple, stupid”, but it’s a good principle to follow when […]
What’s the difference between “race” and “species” and when should you use what in your fantasy settings? I’ve taken a look into this myself and made the right choice for me. Read on for ideas on making the right choice for you. Race What’s a race? The answer can be complicated (but interesting reading), but […]
In this three part series, we’ll look at creating races in fantasy books. This entry focuses on the physical considerations, while Part 2 will discuss the mental ones. Part 3 includes a downloadable template you can use. While using the standard elves, dwarves, dragons, and other usual suspects in fantasy fiction is fine, and maybe […]
In part 1, we looked at some physical considerations when creating races in fantasy books, while building your own world. Now we’ll look at some mental aspects. Mental Considerations Worldview When I watch alien species/races on TV or see them in print, more often than not, I feel like they’re just humans in costume, for […]
In Part 1 we discussed the physical aspects of creating races in fantasy books. Part 2 covers the mental. Now we’ll look at a downloadable template you can use as a starting point to aid your creative writing. Download the PDF or Word template. The Template Fantasy Race/Species Name Here Nicknames: “” Famous For General […]
In another blog, I discussed whether you should create plants and animals for your fantasy setting. Assuming you’ve decided to do it, here are tips for doing so. New Ideas If you already have ideas, you can just write them up according to a template like the one I’ve provided here: The Template Animal/Plant Name: […]
One of the fun aspects of fantasy world building is drawing maps. This blog provides some ideas to keep in mind and tools to help. Some of this is kind of obvious but worth mentioning anyway. Where to Start A good working unit is the continent. Despite the term “world building,” fantasy authors usually write […]
In Part 1, we looked at where to start and basic continent considerations for drawing a fantasy map. Now we’ll look at some geographical considerations. Remember Geography Having a basic sense of geography is important or your map won’t make sense. Some of this is obvious but is still worth pointing out. Rivers For example, […]
Today, author John Robin was kind enough to publish a guest post of mine about species and races in world building. You can read it here. The article is drawn from Creating Life (The Art of World Building, #1), which Amazon has listed as a hot new release in its category, currently at #4 (down […]
When world building, I used to think there was no point in inventing animals and plants for a fantasy setting. After all, they’re often just variations on real Earth animals, in which case, why bother? For example, maybe you have a horse with an extra pair of legs, or a tomato that’s yellow and poisonous, […]