Ever since J. R. R. Tolkien established the fantasy genre, the ‘fantasy map’ has been an integral part of many novels. Some are more elaborate than others, but most authors include a map of the world or country they have created in their book. This helps the reader gain a sense of the world, the locations of places, battles etc and (certainly in my experience), helps a writer organise the settings of their story.
So how do we, as writers, go about producing a map of our world. The easiest answer is simply to pay a professional designer or cartographer to draw up our rough draft. This should be simple enough to arrange and many artists include a portfolio of their work on their websites so we should have a fair idea of their abilities and whether they can produce a map with the correct ‘feel’ to it before hiring them.
I’ve always assumed that I would just pay for professional help when I finally get round to publishing one of my big works of fantasy, but now I’m not so sure. Although I have no doubt a designer could produce an amazing image for me, I’ve started to become interested in cartography as a hobby and have found loads of great tutorials online that show how to produce a map using graphics tablets and simple photoshop software, such as fantasticmaps.com and Deviant Art. What surprises me is the ease with which these artists create their maps and I’m starting to think that a writer can produce their own map with great results after a bit of practice! Aside from being just how an author wants it, their own design would carry special significance and cartography will certainly be a useful skill for writers who will need multiple maps throughout their career: the initial expense of a graphics tablet and software will probably amount to very little when compared with a series of professionally produced maps.
I haven’t invested in a graphics tablet or photoshop software yet, but it’s something I’m seriously considering. What I have been doing, is playing around with a piece of CAD software called Campaign Cartographer 3. This is a cheap and relatively easy piece of software to use and lets fantasy maps be designed from scratch, including city plans and blueprints! There are many great tutorials for CC3 online and I was able to produce a few maps I liked relatively quickly, with no previous experience! Two of the maps I have made are shown below, which are interpretations of the Kanto and Johto regions from the Pokémon franchise.
Whether or not you enjoy making maps yourself, I think they are an essential aspect of fantasy writing and investing a bit of time and money into some kind of software might be a viable designing option for writers who are struggling financially. Just like a book cover, a well-designed, beautiful map at the start of a book can really portray a sense of professionalism to a novel and is a great little Easter egg for the reader!