Maps and Fiction

Excerpt from Storyworld First by Jill Williamson.


Ever pick up a fantasy novel and flip to the front to see if there’s a map?

I do. Every time.

When there’s no map, I confess, I get a little grouchy.

I’m obsessed with fictional maps. I love looking at them, and once I come to love the story that takes place in that world, I’m even more enthralled.

So when I started to brainstorm my Blood of Kings trilogy, one of the first things I did was draw a map.

Now, you may not be an artist, and that’s okay. Whether or not your map ever appears in the front of your book, sketching it out can still be a really helpful worldbuilding step. I’ve also found it useful to sketch out floor plans of primary locations from my books, like homes, facilities, or castles. Doing this has helped me visualize the layout of a place so I could better describe it.

Before you start drawing, think about your story to discern what kind of map you’ll need. You might be writing a science fiction novel that takes place on a made-up planet, but if your characters remain in one city for the whole story, a city map might be more useful to you than a global one.

Is there more than one nation involved in your story? Do these nations share borders? Are they islands? Is one nation larger than the others? Where are they located on your planet? Are they above or below the equator? Near the poles? Knowing this can help you determine climates, resources, types of vehicles, flora and fauna, and political advantages one area might have over another.

Also, put a scale on your map to show proportionate distance. Consider how much space and resources are necessary for the population of your land and position your cities accordingly. A scale will also enable you to estimate how much time it takes your characters to travel from one place to another.

Look at other maps—fictional and earthly ones—to help you with the shapes of borders and locations of cities. One thing I noticed when looking at Robin Hobb’s map of the Six Duchies was that it looks surprisingly similar to Alaska, upside down. An intriguing way to come up with a map, don’t you think?



Maps Can Help You Plot

When you spend time drawing a map and adding in details, you’ll come up with plot ideas.

The locations of sea ports, borders, roads, resources, the distance to travel from one place to another, and dangerous things like volcanoes, quicksand pits, or lairs for evil beasts—all of this can inspire interesting plot twists.

For example, if there are two cities close to the only road that leads out of a mountain pass, that might create discord between the two cities as they fight for access to the road.

I drew a stone wall on my map because I thought it looked cool. But when I started thinking about why the people might have built the wall, I came up with the history of the two cities that have fought each other for years. At one point, the kingdom on the east built the wall to discourage their enemy from attacking again.

Creating a map can help you focus on all the important details of your world and give you a better grasp of what it’s like to live in these places. And it just might help you map out part of your plot, as well.

If you’re interested in learning more about making a map for your book, check out this post by Jeff Gerke: For those who are not artistic, Jeff also recommends for creating maps. And if you want to look at some of the maps and floor plans I’ve made, here is a link to them on my website:

For Black Friday, my book Storyworld First is .99 on Kindle, Nook, and Kobo through Sunday, November 30. And I’m giving away one paperback copy here on the Enclave blog. Enter on the Rafflecopter form below.

Have a lovely Thanksgiving!



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7 Responses to Maps and Fiction

  1. Lauren B. November 29, 2014 at 5:46 pm #

    Great post! I love maps but I am not a visual person so drawing them is very difficult. The website suggested for non-artsy people may just be the thing I am looking for. Thanks for the giveaway!

    • Lauren B. November 29, 2014 at 5:48 pm #

      For some reason it didn’t post my whole response and there is no way to edit comments. Oh well. I don’t really have a favorite map but I LOVE it when they are included in books. I often spend hours before, during, and after reading the book simple examining the maps.

  2. Joy H November 29, 2014 at 7:07 pm #

    I love making maps! 🙂 I really want to read this book sometime, as story world building is one of the things that I really love to do!

  3. Stefanie Nicholas November 30, 2014 at 12:22 pm #

    I’ve been wanting to read this book for ages!! Fantasy is amazing and I LOVE maps. Like, seriously. I can look at them for hours. I think my favourite map is the one in LOTR, and the one in Eragon. Oh, and Graceling, which I haven’t read yet but I own.

  4. Rachel M. November 30, 2014 at 1:04 pm #

    My favorite map would have to be from Leviathan by Scott Westerfield, otherwise there’s not many books I own with many maps! I’ve been looking for a book on how to build a story world for a while now!

  5. Emma B November 30, 2014 at 6:49 pm #

    My favorite maps are Tolkien’s maps from Lord of the Rings. I love how I can follow the journeys as I read. They’re so well put together. I have a really hard time with mapmaking, since drawing is difficult for me. I can never get what I picture in my mind onto the paper.

  6. Rebekah Gyger April 1, 2015 at 12:14 pm #

    For one of my maps, I took a map of Venezuela on my computer, flipped it upside down, sideways, and then squished it in before erasing some of the mountains.

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