May 8, 2017

Fantasy Map-making for the Artistically Challenged

Fantasy Map-making for the Artistically Challenged

I'm a fairly good artist, but I know not everyone is like me. Even I'm not that good at one of the most important parts of writing any novel that takes place in a made-up place or occasionally a real one. Drawing a map.

Please don't run away screaming. The whole point of this post is to make map-making manageable. I said this is for the artistically challenged, didn't I?

In this post, I'll show you how to make a simple map for your novel. Will it be Tolkien worthy? No. Will it be good? Maybe. But that's not the point. Let's get to it.

This is my first map. Compare it to the map I drew for this post and you'll see how a little practice helped me.

Step 1: Accept that your map will not be a work of art

The whole point is of this is not to create a beautiful piece of artwork. Though if you can do that, it's a plus. The point is to make a map you can use with your novel. No else ever has to see this.

Map-making is a skill that takes time and practice. Real cartographers spend years learning their art. You obviously don't have to do that. But you will need to practice drawing maps to get better at it.

If you don't accept that it won't be great, you'll only be disappointed with what you create. Instead you need to do the best you can and be content with that. Practice makes perfect.

Step 2: Get together your supplies

There are two ways to make maps. By hand or on a computer. Neither is better than the other. It just depends on what you feel more comfortable with.

For a paper map, you'll need paper (obviously), a good pencil, and an eraser. I don't suggest using pen because you never know if you might want to change something on your map later. Also, the bigger the piece of paper, the better for your map. It will give you lots of room to work. However, if that feels intimidating, just go with a normal 8 1/2 by 11.

I personally have never made a map using a computer program. There can be quite a learning curve involved in using computers. If you decided to do it that way, you'll have to do some research on what programs work best. You can probably use any drawing program. Or you can try out this cool map creator from Fantasy Name Generator.

Step 3: Know your country

It's important to know lots about your country before starting your map. In fact, you should leave map-making until after completing your world building. You'll need to know those facts to create a map. How will you know you need mountains unless you know that your country has lots of stone? Or need a large inland lake for your freshwater mermaids?

Step 4: Basic shape

Now we get to the fun part. Actually starting to draw the map. You'll start with the basic shape. You may already have a shape in mind, or you can do what I often do, which is just let your hand wander around the paper until you have a shape you like. Don't forget to add any major peninsulas, islands, coves, or bays to the outline.

Also think about the surrounding countries at this point. How does your country connect to the other ones? It's highly unlike that your country is just floating alone in the middle of nothing, so you need to think about what's around it. More lands? Ocean? Space? Even if that other stuff never comes in, it's important for you to know and add it to your map.

Once you've got a shape you like, including the surrounding countries or whatever, start making the edges more detailed. If you look at a real map, you'll see all our borders wiggle all over the place. Add some realism to your map by doing the same. But don't go overboard. Try to find a happy middle ground.

Step 5: Filling it in

This is where it starts to get tricky. But don't panic, even if that's tempting. I promise you can do this.

The next step is to add in all the little details. Terrain, cities, capitals, rivers, lakes, and all that stuff. You probably already know some of these things from outlining and world building. You just have to decided where to put them.

This is my second map. Just using tips from the book I mention at the end of this post, look how much better it is.

For each thing (city, mountain, river, etc.) you'll need a way to represent it. These can be simple upside down v's for mountain to actually drawing in a mountain range. What you draw depends on your skill level and what you feel comfortable doing. However, I do suggest you try for a more professional look, since it will make you happier with your map.

I've included some ideas for these items for you to reference. As you can see, I have both easy and harder ones for you to try. Do what works best for you, and you'll be fine. As you see, even I'm not that good. My trees look like wobbly pears. This is an area I want to improve at.

Step 6: Add the details

Label your cities using some fun script. Add monsters, shading, and whatever else it takes until your map looks complete.

And you're done creating your map! Congratulate yourself. If you think that your map looks really awful, try holding it about ten feet away. I find drawings always look better at that distance.

Step 7: Use your map

The map's purpose is to help you write your story. Now that you have completed it, that's exactly what you can do. Keep it at hand as you write to reference and add on. This is why I say not to ink your map. You never know when something might change, like realizing they're going east, but the city they're trying to get to is to the west.

Later, when your story is done, you can ink and color your map. It will look quite professional if you do that. Even if you never let anyone see your map, you'll always get a thrill to look at it. You created a world and drew it too, no matter how horrible. Everyone is an artist. Never forget that.


If you need more help with map-making, here are some various places you can look.

• YouTube. You can always search for "how to make a fantasy map" or "drawing a fantasy map" on here. There are many videos, so you're sure to find something.

Worldbuilding School. There are some pretty good articles on here, and if you're willing to sign up for their email, you can get access to their library.

• Google it. Whatever think you need help with, just try a Google search. Something's bound to come up.

• How to Draw Fantasy Art and RPG Maps: Step by Step Cartography for Gamers and Fans. My family just got this book and it is so amazing. The ideas are easy and he shows you how to create a map from concept to completion. I recommend getting this book immediately.

There you have it. How to make a map, no matter your art skill level. Go forth and create.

Let's talk! Have you ever made a map before? What's your favorite part? Tell me in the comments.


  1. Ooh this is SO awesome and helpful! honestly I need to draw a map for my current fantasy world and I keep procrastinating it really badly.😂 I just hate how tacky mine always look but yours is SO COOL and I totally want to follow these tips!! I also am kind of in love with that How To book you have there...I need to see if my library has it. 😍
    Thanks for this fabulous post!!

    1. Totally check out the book. It has changed my map-making forever. I say if you need to draw a map, just dive in and do it. I've got a few maps to make myself.
      I'm so glad you enjoyed the post, and thanks for commenting.