In Favor of Drawing Maps

You guys know I love maps. And though I sometimes resort to quick and dirty tricks to make one, mostly my maps are a labor of love -- one I spend way too many hours on.

It may surprise you, then, that I almost never draw them.

I know, right? I'm willing to draw cheap puns, but not a map for my beloved world. What I usually do is find a map generator that lets me specify parameters and hit the random button a bunch of times until I find something I like. (If that's your style, btw, this program might suit you just fine).

I thought drawing a map would feel artificial. Like it wouldn't look like a map, or it would be too obvious that I created geographical features just to support my story. I thought I needed a map to be given to me, to "discover" the world in a more natural way.

So I would spend hours and hours searching for a generator and clicking "Generate Random Map" until I found one I thought I could work with. Not realizing that I knew what I wanted to work with the whole time and could've sketched it up in a few minutes.

I honestly thought I was saving myself time. The truth (that I'm only now seeing) is that I was afraid of doing it wrong.

When you draw your own map:
  • It's faster.
  • You get exactly what you want.
  • You're reminded just how big a world really is.
 And as for doing it wrong? It's really hard:
  • It doesn't have to be pretty, just good enough for you to write from.
  • You don't have to be able to draw a straight line. In fact, you shouldn't ever.
  • You get to revise.
Let me say that again: YOU GET TO REVISE. My fear of doing it wrong? It's exactly the same fear I have every time I start a first draft. As writers, we know revision is not a bad thing; it's the only thing.

I don't know why I thought map-making was any different.

Have you ever made your own maps? How did you go about it, and what would you do differently next time?


Matthew MacNish said...

I definitely have made maps, but ... never for a novel. The best part is, if I ever do need one for a novel, I'll give myself the freedom to draw a crappy one. Because if it's going to get traditionally published, a professional will draw it, and if I end up publishing something myself, I can pay an artist.

Jay Noel said...

I sketched out my own map, but it was more for me. No intentions of putting that chicken scratch in a book!

Susan Kaye Quinn said...

Ok, you've almost convinced me. And that map generator makes it pretty easy to contemplate trying. And I might just need a map for this steampunk fantasy that keeps bedeviling my dreams. :)

Jack said...

Map drawing scares me, mine always turn out looking like they were done by a five-year-old, though I do find them helpful to have, just to remind me were everything is located in the world I made.

Though, working hard on something is always worth it, and can be fun to revise. At least, I never mind revising my books, so I assume other things one enjoys would be the same way.

Laura Hughes, MittensMorgul said...

The first series of novels I ever wrote (my "practice novels") were epic fantasy in a made-up world. I quickly realized I needed to draw a map, or I would never be able to keep the geography of my imaginary world straight.

I made a series of maps (one of the town, one of the whole "country" the stories were set in, one of the neighboring large towns, topographical maps showing mountains, rivers, etc.). It made writing so much more interesting, and I changed and added to them constantly while I wrote.

Now that I'm writing urban fantasy that takes place on Earth, I use Google Maps instead. :D

Steve MC said...

You don't have to be able to draw a straight line. In fact, you shouldn't ever.

Good to know!

Victoria Dixon said...

Yours is an interesting approach. I've always drawn my own maps - and spent waaaay too much time doing it. LOL But it does help me know where things are, how long it will take characters to get from plot point A to plot/place point B, etc. That touches on weather they're traveling through and it all snowballs. Maps are important.

Daniel Smith said...

Good points. For those that would like another generator I recommend AMIDST. It is actually a mapper of world seeds for the popular indie game Minecraft but it would suit world building just the same. Enter any integer as a seed and you'll get a near-infinite map. Just scroll. AND, the each seed # is unique and will recreate the same map given the same version of AMIDST.

Scroll down a bit. There are several link options.

Deniz Bevan said...

I love maps. I love books with maps. Someday, I hope to have a story that requires an invented map... It's probably the only thing I can draw, besides stick figures.
If my historical romance gets published I could have a real map in there, of the Mediterranean :-)