How to Make a Map for Your Fantasy World

I love maps, and let’s face it they are a staple of fantasy. Every fantasy book I open has a map inside of it, and I enjoy it every single time. It makes the world feel so much more real and immersive. It gets me excited about all the places the characters are going to go and makes me want to know more.

I also play D&D and I love when the DM unrolls the map or gives us one we can use. Maybe it’s because I’m a gamer, but exploring parts of a map is just so satisfying.

And what worldbuilder doesn’t want a map of their own? You spend all that time creating the darn thing, but it doesn’t have to exist as just text! Drawing a map is a HUGE part of the process, and it can be really fun!

But when you’re first starting out, it can be really intimidating. And I know from experience that my first attempts looked terrible. Thankfully I’ve learned a few things since then and found some excellent resources. So I decided to create a simple, easy-to-follow guide for making your first map.

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Three Essentials for Good Worldbuilding

There are a couple of things I look for to help strengthen worldbuilding and build a level of immersion – because that’s what you want. Immersion. You want someone to “buy in” to the world you have made and care about what happens. You want it to create that suspension of disbelief that makes them worry about what will happen and who it will happen to, even though it’s entirely fictional.

And believe it or not, you don’t have to build out literally every aspect of the world to do it. In fact, I think that can take longer and make it harder to create an immersive experience. At least within a short window of time, as you’re dividing yourself over what could be an entire planet or galaxy. Not that it isn’t fun, of course. I’ve talked at length about how much fun worldbuilding can be when you get carried away.

Sometimes it takes a backseat to character & plot, but if you’re writing sci-fi or fantasy, half the fun is the fact that we are getting to explore a world unlike our own. So when the worldbuilding is neglected you can feel a little cheated. After some thinking, I came up with three ‘rules’ that I think help guide your worldbuilding and your writing to be stronger and more immersive.

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Building the Far North: How I Build a Fictional World

When I started this series of blog posts on worldbuilding, I gave a fairly brief introduction of how I defined it, why it was important, and how I go about the process, and then I attempted to create a worksheet based around that.

Of course, up until that point no such worksheet existed. It was a method that existed only in my mind. And the worksheet was an attempt to distill that process into a few simple questions that would hopefully work the same for anyone who happened to use it.

But how did I know it actually worked?

Naturally, the next logical step would be to use it myself. How better to explain my process than with a page by page demonstration using the worksheet I created?

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What is the Difference Between Fantasy and Science Fiction?

In theory, it should seem pretty obvious. Science Fiction is spaceships and aliens, and fantasy is all about magic and wizards and medieval kingdoms. This very limited view has a very recognizable visual.

But then you have something like Star Wars. With futuristic weaponry, space battles and all sorts of unusual species. At first glance, it would appear very science fiction. But is it? You also have the weird woo-woo that is the Force, and an order of powered people protecting the balance between good and evil. And a dark empire to boot. Add to that, there is nothing intrinsically scientific or speculative about any of the movies. They never explore how the Death Star functions. They don’t explore the concept of war in space, at least not on a very deep level. The stormtroopers, while their visual is iconic, fail on a practical level. It has the look of science fiction while borrowing tropes and concepts from fantasy.

And when you get right down to it, the genres have a lot in common. They frequently involve unusual, sometimes impossible elements, whether that be magic or technology. All stories have an implicit ‘what if’ to them, but it’s even more present in fantasy and science fiction, which usually have some hook to their ‘what if’, like what if dragons were real? What if we could download our consciousness onto the internet? This is where the term speculative fiction came from – a way of categorizing those stories that use elements that don’t exist in the real world as part of their set up. The author is speculating about what sort of a world might exist, whether it’s Earth or some fictional world.

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How Much Worldbuilding is Too Much?

The short and unsatisfying answer is it depends.

If you’ve ever written a fantasy or sci-fi novel, you know that how much worldbuilding you need can vary wildly depending on the complexity of the world and the story you’re telling. And chances are you may have heard the term Worldbuilder’s Disease thrown around here or there. It’s a devastating illness, that can come about suddenly and cut down unsuspecting ideas and manuscripts.

Maybe I’m being a little dramatic. But it is a potential pitfall when you’re worldbuilding, and it can be a big threat to your productivity and your motivation.

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