Mapping for Fun and Clarity

I’ve always had a thing for maps. For years, my bedroom sported a large map of the World of Greyhawk (from my D&D role-playing days) above my bed. Yeah, it was a real chick magnet.

I liked the map because it was colorful and the fantasy aspect appealed to me. After a day of facing “the real world,” it was nice to come home and see a reminder of the days when exercising my imagination had a higher priority.

I still have maps on my walls. One of them is an enormous, about 3-foot square, Kaniksu National Forest map, which covers Bonner and Boundary counties in North Idaho. It is nearly as colorful as my old Greyhawk map, but has a more practical purpose. When my wife and I go out on driving or hiking excursions, we use my Kaniksu map for planning.

I do still have a fantasy map on another wall. It is a smaller map of the Province of Cyrodiil. This map came with the role-playing game Oblivion, which sucked up a large chunk of my spare time late last year. I no longer play Oblivion, but the map is cool and it is loaded with adventure memories.

I’ve discovered that my fiction writing has opened up a new avenue for enjoying maps; I get to create my own. Mapping is something I haven’t indulged in since my Dungeon Master days. Having a map is a big help when I think through the environment and action of a scene or when estimating travel time within the fantasy world that hosts my stories.

This week, I’d like to share a couple of the maps I created to envision the scenes related to the village of Buckwoods, a fictional village in my book Vaetra Unveiled.

Buckwoods is a small fishing village with only about a dozen residents. The village is located on a peninsula that spreads out onto Teardrop Lake. Several aspects of the location play into the action of the story, including some of the buildings in the village and the shape of the road leading up to the village.

This first map is an overview of the peninsula.

Delta Peninsula

The second map zooms in on the village of Buckwoods.


I hand-drew both maps and scanned them. You might be able to tell that I spruced up the first one in Photoshop (literally — see the little spruce trees?) The second map is what they look like immediately post-scan. Yeah, I’m no artist.

The two maps were extremely helpful when it came time to write the scenes that are set on the Delta Peninsula. It was easy to picture the road, trails, and village in my mind. Establishing the layout of the village helped me be consistent with what the characters could see from various angles.

One of my beta readers suggested that I include maps in my book, which was something I had been considering. I know that I always appreciate it when a fantasy author includes a map so I can get a feel for the relative locations of various landmarks. If I do decide to include any maps in my book, I will have my wife redo them in a vector drawing program. (It’s handy being married to a graphic designer.) These maps would work fine for an ebook, but they are bitmaps, so they won’t scale if I need a higher resolution for the print version of my book.

However, one thing I’ve noticed is that the maps you find in books are rarely very detailed. They are also used sparingly. You usually get one big regional overview map and that’s it. I don’t know if that’s because it is expensive to have a map professionally drawn, or if authors don’t want to commit themselves to too much detail lest they introduce continuity errors, or if readers don’t like being distracted by maps.


So what about you? Do you draw maps related to your stories? Do you ever include them in your book? Tell me in the comments!


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  1. I haven’t yet written the kind of book that needs a map, but I love it when they are included in Fantasy stories. It helps me to get a feel for the place.

  2. Thanks for visiting Sarah, and for your feedback on maps. I’ve never felt the need for a map in modern works that reference familiar landmarks either, but I agree that having them for any kind of world that is made up (fantasy or science fiction), helps make the story world come alive.

    The region of the fantasy world that hosts my story is actually based on a real place, but I’ve taken great liberties with location names and some of the landmarks. Still, someone who lived in the area might recognize the similarities.

  3. Maps of a fictional world in Dungeons and Dragons may not be a "chick" magnet, but I think it’s probably because it wasn’t framed and presented well. Girls like things to look professionally presented whereas guys tend to look more at content. Does that make sense? Packaging vs. content? I dunno. It’s just my opinion.

    I’m with you on being fascinated with maps. Nothing gets the creative juices flowing quite as good as a well thought out map.

  4. Michael: Packaging vs content DOES make sense. And to be fair, one "chick" did like it, and she eventually became my wife. Perhaps leaving it as it was made it a good girlfriend filter! Thanks for visiting and commenting.