Thursday, January 12, 2012

Maps and Fantasy

One of the first things I used to do when searching out the next fantasy book I was going to read was look for a map. I love fantasy books, series especially, ones with maps. It always helps me picture the layout of the land, and the relationship of the places that the characters travel.

When I first started writing my own series, I had sketched several different versions of the map to my world. I eventually had a large version tacked on my wall above my computer that I could look up at and keep myself oriented as I wrote. Then I got fancy and came up with a smaller version, slightly different than the original, in the overall shape and size of the realm in general. This was another hand-drawn offering.

Somehow over the years, my large version was misplaced, but I still have my secondary revision. I still keep it handy as I'm typing away on my second book in the series. The places are familiar. The shape of the land as well known to me as my own hometown. I love looking at the cities, the forests, the rivers, the oceans and all the places I created, but that my characters have yet to explore or discover.

My biggest disappointment with my first book The Path of Light in The Chronicles of Vlandamyuir Series, is that I didn't get my map done in a digital format. I know how maps make me feel more connected to the stories I read; I want to offer that same connection to my readers. So, after getting my book out there and realizing that if I love maps, I need to include my map, I went in search of how to accomplish this task.

Since I am a complete klutz when it comes to actually attempting to draw anything myself, I was looking into different programs that might offer me the ability to bring my hand-drawn creation into the digital age. This was easier said than done. There are a number of programs that offer you the ability to create a map for your book or project. The problem begins with the fact that I'm nearly as incompetent when dealing with drawing or creative programs as I am doing it freehand. Photoshop still intimidates me.

So, rather than waste money on programs that I figured would leave me more confused than mapped. I decided to search out any free programs that could give me a taste of what I was getting myself into without making me feel too foolish. Okay, so the foolish part would happen no matter what, because I am at a loss for most things dealing in technology. Write it down, sure. Click, drag, paste, HTML...whoa, I'm lost!

I followed a bunch of links. I looked at dozens of websites. I read several posts on a forum and everyone pretty much agreed -- There aren't a lot of good free programs to draw a map, especially if you are graphically challenged. I did find one option, AutoREALM, that was free. It has a lot of buttons, pictures, options, and stuff I have no idea what it does. After a few hours of "Let's push this button and see what happens," I knew I was in trouble.

Several test maps later, I knew whatever I did it was going to take some practice. Jumping in with both feet, I took out my hand-drawn creation and went about trying to recreate it. I would get the outline settled, add some mountains, plop in trees for the forests, draw some rivers and then decide it wasn't quite right. I am learning as I go, so I suppose that is all part of the process.

My goal, is to have a useable map to go with the second book in the series. We'll see how my graphically-challenged efforts measure up. Another good thing is, I am learning to stretch beyond my comfort zone. I'd never tackle creating a map on my own. I'm still not sure why I'm doing it to myself now, oh right, I do love a good challenge.


  1. I love maps, too! I heard that Christopher Paolini drew the maps in the front of his Eragon books. I think they lend a hand in accentuating realms of fantasy. I hope you can get that map done! Good luck!

  2. Thanks! I hope I can get one done as well. It is a real challenge, but I'm looking forward to tackling it. I think a map will definitely add to the story. At least, I hope so!

  3. Hi - good luck. I looked into all these for my own mapping. Ended up doing it the hard way with the help, among other things, of GIMP. Took a while, as I am utterly 'graphically challenged' (there are amoeba on Saturn that can draw better than I can) but it's been well worth it. An initial sketch on a piece of paper, with a pencil - nothing to show anybody - also helped. And no question about the value of maps for story writing - I've covered it off myself on my own blog, a while back. It really helps hone in on plot issues, problems and ideas. Hope everything goes well for your own sketching - and also your Vol 2 story!

    Matthew Wright

  4. Thanks, Matthew!

    I've heard good and bad with GIMP. I'm definitely doing a trial and error method so far. I'm keeping my hopes up that I will be able to fashion something "map-like" eventually.

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