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Drawing a Fantasy Map for Your Novel or Short Story

Updated on June 25, 2011

Why Draw a Fantasy Map?

Drawing a fantasy map does a lot more than add an interesting appendix to your finished novel or short story book. In fact, most fantasy maps probably wouldn't get published with the fiction piece at all. Why, therefore, should you draw a fantasy map when you set out to write a piece of fantasy genre fiction?

When writers create whole new worlds for their characters to live and adventure in, building the world itself is one of the most enjoyable things. Where will your cities and towns lay, and how long will it take your adventurers to travel between them? Will they have to pass through the Murky Mountains or the Swamp of Snakes? Creating a world that is rife with wonders and dangers can almost add another character to your fantasy story. The character will have to interact with the world, and a map can help you keep things on track.

Fantasy Maps Help Readers

Important Fantasy Map Stuff

There are several things that every fantasy map for novel or short story writing should have. Include these things so it is easier to know where your characters are going, how long it takes to get there, and what they will encounter on the way. It will help you describe things in your story more accurately as well.

  1. Compass rose - which way is north?
  2. Scale - how far are things away from each other?
  3. Legend - can you tell a city from a village?
  4. Landforms - forests, mountains and rivers.
  5. Paths - roads or walkways. What routes do your characters take?

Create a map that is as complex or simple as you'd like, but the above things must be included. Not only will it look empty without some of them, you will easily lose your place in the story if you do not know where your characters are or what they will have to overcome next.

Fantasy Worlds Can Be Mapped

How To Draw a Fantasy Map Outline

There are several ways to draw a fantasy map. The method depends on your abilities at drawing and how much time you want to spend drawing it.

Freehand Map Drawing

If you have artistic skill, you can freehand draw a map for your fictional world. You don't have to be an expert. Draw a rough outline, keeping in mind whether the land is bordered by ocean or other land masses. Drawing the entire world is often not necessary. Simply draw the part of the world that is involved with your story.

Fractal Mapping

There are programs you can download from the internet that will help you create a fantasy map outline based on fractals, such as the automatic fractal map generator found at will give you a rough outline of a potential map. You can tweak the program to make inlets or peninsulas.

The Orange Peel Method

One fun way of getting a fantasy map outline is to use an orange peel. Take the peel off an orange in as few pieces as possible. Then, flatten them out on a plain piece of paper and trace them. The resultant outline can be the borders of your fictional country or kingdom.

Copy Real Maps

The last thing you want to do is copy a country straight out of an atlas and give it a new, fantastical name for your novel or short story. Someone who is good at geography will recognize it. If you want to trace the outlines from an atlas or map book, copy bits and pieces of different countries or landmasses and stick them together. It is the easiest way to get a natural-looking border. You don't have to imagine inlets and promontories. They are right there for you to see.

Filling In Your Fantasy Map

After designing the outline, you need to fill in the center of your map. This is where some knowledge of geography and geology can come into play. Your fantasy world has to make sense for the reader to be comfortable inside it. How do mountains affect rivers and lakes? How do habitats bump up against each other?

Many beginning map makers mistakenly stick the desert right next to the forest and then smack a mountain at the other side. Ecosystems do not start and stop like lines on a zebra. They blend into each other gradually. With that in mind, understand that your fantasy mountain range will probably transform to hills before it becomes a grassland.

Watercourses and bodies of water must be connected. Rivers cannot run up the sides of mountains unless your fantasy world has something odd going on with gravity. All water runs toward the sea or a lake. Large rivers either spread out or cut canyons through the landscape.

Cities and towns should be placed where it would make sense to have them. Civilization centers need food, fresh water and often communication and transportation methods. Most spring up near rivers or lakes. Even seaside villages need a source of fresh water, or you will have to write about some type of fantasy desalination system.

It is most important to map out all the locations your characters will go to during the story. Be aware of distances between them. If you map the City of Blee right next to the River of Grog, it would make sense for your adventurers to hop on a boat to go south to Quarnak Village.


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    • profile image

      Proud Foot 4 years ago

      Agreed, drawing a map for your story is certainly the most fun part. I'm a big fan of maps; fantasy maps are up all over my house. I thought the orange peel was a great idea, will certianly give that ago!

      Thanks for sharing, happy hubbing!

    • Silver Poet profile image

      Silver Poet 7 years ago from the computer of a midwestern American writer

      Maps really do help tell the story. Tolkien's maps of Middle Earth and Lewis's maps of Narnia add a bit of depth and detail.

    • UlrikeGrace profile image

      UlrikeGrace 7 years ago from Canada

      Very good information! Yes, I agree half the fun in writing fiction and/or fantasy is creating the world in which the characters are living, not play acting but living. I loved your idea about the orange peel, excellent and each country would be ever so unique! Loved this Hub rated thumbs up!