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How to create a Fantasy World (map)

The word Create on a cork boardWriting a book is all about creating worlds. Some exist on the edge of our known reality, others are millions if miles away, far off in space. But, they all have one thing in common; they all sprung from the mind of their creator. As writer you need to spend time to think about your fantasy world. Still, it’s not always easy, so I thought why not put a few steps together that will help other people take their first steps into creating their very own world:

  • People (and other variants) and their societies
    Depending on the kind of writer you are, most will start to fill in the world they imagine with characters, long before they think about anything else. Are they human(oid), or a different species. How is their culture and socializing. Do they hate or like any of the other inhabitants of the world? By creating such relationships between the different kind of people/nations your world comes to life and feels “lived”.
    You can treat societies as “characters” from your book. Look at the different aspect they can have, are they high and mighty, or are they unfair in treating people in the hierarchy? Are they prone to go to war, or enlightened? By filling out such details you will establish a high level presence to build your story against. Your characters will have to abide by the different rules, just like normal people or there might be consequences.
  • Systems
    Does the world have any noticeable systems that play a significant role in your story? Is there magic in the world? If so, are there any downsides to it? Is everyone super healthy, or is the currency perhaps based on letting blood, or exchanging souls? Everything is possible, but every system has its flaws. Flaws that can be taken advantage of, exploited. Is it perhaps something that can help your protagonist as he is faced with his obstacles, or will it just make his quest more difficult? A well thought out system, will give your story structure and a safety net in case your character decides to go rogue with too many liberties along the way.
  • Nature
    If I remember correctly I started more in this corner of the world. Thinking about how the continents lay, what are the challenges of living in the world. What opportunities would people have? Are there any natural barriers? A well plotted lay of the land will give interesting opportunities for action and plot twists. Describing the world in all its beauty, the plants, the animals, the terrors will make the world less barren (unless of course you wish it to be barren :)). But you can go beyond the first level of describing the scenery. It can play an active role in your story. Is nature fighting back, or have the inhabitant ruined the planet beyond repair. Something to think about, I would say.

Stone War Chronicles Worldmap

Once I had plotted out my world in my mind, I spend a great deal of time scribbling and sketching. Filling out in detail the known cities and different locations. Literally shaping the world on paper. Once that was done, it was time to make the map available to my readers. One of the most fun things about reading fantasy for me is all those gorgeous maps that are created for the story. A song of Ice and Fire for example has a great detailed foldable map that comes with the bookset. Other books include a more simple map in the book itself. As I could not decide what to do…I’ve chosen to do both!

Tutorials and Software

If you are looking to draw your own worldmap, there are great resources on the web to be used. Take for example the youtube videos of Celianna’s World Map Maker Tutorial or Fantasy Mapmaking Tutorial by Jessica Khoury that both explain how you can make your own worldmap with a little time and effort.

Software that can be used could be as simple as Photoshop, or the free to use program called GIMP, but there are also popping up specific map making tools that are quite easy, though sometimes slightly limiting, to use; like Inkarnate.

And for those people that do not possess the necessary drawing skills? Or simply have not time to spend hours drawing your own map? Well, a third option is to hire someone to do the work of course. Which is what I ended up doing. I could probably have created a worldmap from scratch with my GIMP/Photoshop skills, but it would have taken me many hours to do so…hours I rather spend on finishing book II of the Stone War Chronicles. So when I came across Fiverr, I was pleasantly surprised to find many artists capable of creating the most wonderful creations according to your wishes. The entire structure was very affordable and the result—as you can see above—is amazing. Linh, the artist, did wonderful work at a fast turn-around. I can really recommend his services for anyone looking to have their worldmap created by skilled hands.

That’s it. I hope it provides a starting point for those that are busy mapping out their own (fantasy) worlds. And, if you have any recommendations of your own; feel free to leave them in the comments below!

– A.J. Norfield