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Making Maps

I have always liked to sketch maps of things relating to my WIPs. I have entire notebooks dedicated to maps that I’ve saved from when I was younger. I’ve also been making some recently, for my current WIP, so when I considered what to blog about today, only one thing came to mind: map-making. Before I get into the different mediums for map-making, I would like to point out that maps aren’t just useful for secondary world fantasy. They can help in any genre. You could map out the town your characters live in, what their bedroom looks like, where they are in relation to other nearby towns, locations where people have seen ghosts, anything you want. And there are a ton of ways to go about it, whether you are artistic or not.

--Hand-drawn. These are the kinds of maps that fill my childhood notebooks. They work well if a) you’re trying to give yourself a quick, basic idea of what something looks like or b) you are a (much) better artist than I am, and are capable of hand-drawn masterpieces.

--Paint programs. There are many, many programs out there that you can use to draw or manipulate images yourself. Some cost money, like Photoshop or Photofiltre Studio. Some are free, like Paint or GIMP. It’s easy enough to draw maps with these programs, especially simpler maps like rooms or building layouts. 

I made this map just for this post, fyi.
--Map-making Software. As I mentioned above, my drawing skills don’t really cut it, so recently I looked into map-making software. I’m not going to try to recommend a particular one, because obviously I didn’t test them all out, but it’s easy to find a few choices with a quick internet search. I will say that this one came up the most, by far, when I searched, and I have used and liked it. The benefit of this kind of software is that it’s tailored to the task of map-making, and makes things a lot easier for those of us who aren’t as visually artistic. I also have found that I can use it together with a paint program to improve the map even more. 

Usually my characters aren't this fancy.
--The Sims. I know this sounds weird, maybe, but I have used The Sims (2 & 3) to build houses—or rooms—for WIPs with more contemporary settings. It’s helpful because it’s more to scale than something you would draw yourself. I’ve also used graph paper for the same purpose, and I suspect that architectural design software would work, as well, but I don’t own any.

--Google Maps. Honestly, I wouldn’t have thought of this, if not for awesome co-blogger Kate Hart. But this kind of map would be very helpful for keeping track of locations in a real-world setting.

 I bet these aren’t the only ways to map out your fictional world, but I hope, if it’s something you’re interested in, I’ve given you some ideas.
Kaitlin Ward

Kaitlin Ward is the author of Bleeding Earth, Adaptive Books 2016, and The Farm, coming 2017 from Scholastic.

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  1. Ha - I think if I used Sims to design homes for my characters, I'd end up so absorbed I wouldn't be doing much writing!

    I love the idea of drawing maps and I've often made rough sketches to help me picture settings for my novels.

  2. I used to think I'd only need to make a map if I were writing something set in an elaborate fantasy world or some other planet. Then, one day I read through my draft and wondered: "Wait, was that room on the first floor or the second? That house is across town, but wasn't it just a few blocks away a few chapters ago?" Anybody who has a setting can use a map.

  3. I love the idea of using The Sims for characters' homes! I'm not usually a terribly visual person, so these are some great tips.

  4. I have The Sims installed in my computer, but I haven't played it for a while.

    Maybe I should try building my narrator's house in-game, to figure out the exact "geography" of it.

  5. I sometimes used the map editors in games like Civilization or Heroes of Might and Magic.

    1. This is a great idea I hadn't thought of!

  6. This is one I did for my WIP.
    The Dragonlands
    It's actually not that hard to make nice looking maps. What I do is I go and find a real map, preferably one of the old style ones, crop it, print it, and trace the interesting looking outlines onto a new piece of paper. Then, in photoshop you can download Cartography Brush sets where you have the trees and houses and mountains all done for you. Just sprinkle them in the right places on your map outline, add labels in pretty fonts, stick a 'old paper' layer on top on 'lighten' or another similar option, and you're good. No real drawing required.

  7. One of the major ways maps come in handy is measuring distances. My second world fantasy has only two forms of transportation (walking and magical wagon), so I need to have an idea of how long it will take to walk from Point A to Point B (and therefore how far in advance will the characters have to leave the house in order to show up to the fight at just the right moment.)

  8. I'm a big Simmer, and I've actually been thinking about building Sim houses for my characters! Glad to know I'm not the only one who's thought about this. :P

  9. I have a whole category just for maps on my DeviantART page. If I didn't have SOME idea of what the planet looked like, I'd never be able to write it!


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Item Reviewed: Making Maps Rating: 5 Reviewed By: Kaitlin Ward