Designing a Fantasy Map (and Why Trees Look Daft)

Designing a fantasy map to complement your book can be just as hard, if not harder, than writing the story in the first place. It takes time and energy, but if you follow the basic tips and tricks below, you can start to pull a great fantasy map together.

How much of the fantasy world have you sketched out in the story already?

I have always written the story before designing the map – the moment a world is set in stone, it becomes much harder to freely write new scenarios. For example, I wrote Wave Singers first, without realising at the start of the story that I had a whole world waiting to be put on paper. The maps at the beginning of my books show each individual realm, which works out well for me as Pangaea is divided easily into quadrants. Writing Book 5 at the moment and having to keep the full map in mind as I put together the story is proving much more difficult. So, lesson no. 1;

  • Write the story first, design the fantasy map later.

Which features need to be included and where do you have free reign?

Now, here’s the fun part. You’ve developed a world, written the story and know whereabouts your characters are going to be hanging out at any given time. Grab a big ‘ole sheet of paper and a pencil and start sketching. Get a feel for the scale of the whole thing – if there is an epic journey, you want to map to make it look epic, not like a gentle walk that could be achieved in a single afternoon. Draw in the various landmarks you have definitely talked about in the book. Let the story descriptions show you where the basics are situated, then you can flesh out the rest with fun things. Lesson no. 2;

  • Doodle up a rough map of what your story describes already, be it a large forest to the west, a citadel on top of a hill or a sea dividing the two main kingdoms.

Building around the basics and fleshing out the fantasy

With your rough map in place, you can begin to add things in to make it super. First, think scientifically (or don’t, it’s your map after all). In my map, I have the fire people, Titaians, living in a realm of volcanic activity. Volcanoes appear on fault lines and tend towards ranges, they aren’t often just sat in the middle of a field by themselves. So my volcanic range begins in the south and sweeps up to the east, conveniently providing a home for the mountain dwelling air people, Zephyrus. This mountain range provides a ‘spine’ for my fantasy map to centre on and keep it believable. I can then add in rivers, lakes, extra settlements, meadows, forest, beach and cliffs as suits the story and the realm I’m designing. Lesson no. 3;

  • Use science to expand the rough notes into a believable world and then build out with elements you would usually find in a map to add realism.

What style of fantasy map would suit your world and story best?

Is your tale set in a land of steampunk cogs and mechanical intrigue? An urban downtown landscape of skyscrapers and smoke? A lush rainforested planet occupied by tree frogs? Use the story to inspire your map. The Equilibria Collection is set in an Earth-adjacent world, with different realms to reflect the four elements. As a Classics’-inspired fantasy story, I wanted to reference that in my fantasy map so I have an olde worlde style sepia toned colour scheme and landscape details riffed from Japanese maps, as the whole of Pangaea has a slightly Eastern feel. Lesson no. 4;

  • Let the force story be your guide. Use it to inspire the overall feel of your map.

Chat to me about your map ideas on Twitter @EchoFoxBooks, Facebook and Pinterest.


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