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Mapmaking for Fantasy Worlds

Have you ever noticed how people sometimes don't put much effort into their mapmaking? Whether it is for a book or for a D&D game, it really annoys me if they did a sloppy job of making a map.

If they at least made a map, that is a good thing in my opinion.

If they take the effort to make a well made map and stretch their mapmaking skills, well then I am a happy camper.

But if they don't make the effort at all... Then I get really annoyed. Obviously I love fantasy maps, hence all the posts on the subject, but when a fantasy author publishes a book and doesn't even make a map it decreases my enjoyment of the book.

The map below for example is deliberately meta and generic. "The Kingdom" doesn't even have a real name, and places are just "The Wood" or "The Glacier". It is deliberately bad.

Awhile back I contacted a fantasy author via Twitter regarding her series of books... because there was no map in the book. There were cities, mountains, specific places, but no map.

And she responded that she and her editor both felt a map was unnecessary and not needed.

To which I was flabbergasted.

To me a map of the region makes the place feel more real. You can look at the map and compare locations, and understand how they got from point A to point B. Maps tell a story all by themselves, and that story gives greater depth and "realness" to the story.

So to me not having a map at all just feels... Lazy. Incomplete. Unfinished. The kind of thing my lazy slacker procrastinating friend Randy would have done back in high school (he is much better now). And it diminishes the feeling of reality.

For example below is the map(s) from The Soddit (a farce version of The Hobbit). Even though the story/world is a farce, the map only adds lots of extra details about the world. eg. Mt Dumb and Mt Dumba.


As such, the map from The Soddit does an excellent job of doing what a map is supposed to do: Tell a story.

Mt Dumb and Mt Dumba is not important to the plot of the book The Soddit. I don't think they are even mentioned in the story at all. Neither are the towns Er, Ur and Um. But who cares? It is FUNNY, which is exactly what a map from a farce world should be.

Below is another example of a farciful map. It is from the book / film The Princess Bride - a film so amazing that even the "Everything Wrong With" guy cannot say anything bad about it. So you see the locations of the Fire Swamp, the Farm where Buttercup lived, etc. But you also see places like the Zoo of Death which did not appear in the film (I have not read the book, I don't know if that appears in the book).


The beauty of the above map is that even though the Princess Bride is ridiculous and funny, the map only serves to enhance it. It isn't as silly as The Soddit map from further above, but the Princess Bride is more realistic despite its silliness - and the map reflects that same duality of realism/silliness.

So if you're a fantasy author, please make a map and do a good job of it.

If you're running a fantasy D&D game, again make a map. Make it available to your Dungeons and Dragons players (print out a smaller version perhaps and keep a larger version for yourself).

Every good story deserves a map. 

That doesn't mean that all stories need a map. If all the action happens inside a single building for example, you might not need a map. But if your story takes place in a town, like Sleepy Hollow or Castle Rock (as per Stephen King) then perhaps a map of the town would be handy.

In some cases much of the action in the story might take place outside of normal space-time, in which case if there is geography to this strange realm, then it also needs a map.

For example lets say you want to write a story that takes place in a Dreamworld. Then maybe a map of the dreamworld would actually make sense for your story. Something similar to the map below.


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