Mapping Out Your StoryWorld Part Three

Welcome back adventurers! Today, we’re going to tackle drawing our maps.

This is Part Three of Mapping Out Your Story World. If you missed the previous posts in this miniseries, you can find them here:

Part One: Suspension of Disbelief

Part Two: Ecology & Cultures

Maps do not have to be complicated. Jenelle Leanne Schmidt shared about that on her blog earlier this month, click here if you’d like to read more about it.

For those of us who love to draw, it can be an opportunity to showcase your style. Or it can be a simple sketch to help YOU as a writer to keep track of everything. Whether you’re drawing a map for yourself or with hopes to include in your fantasy novel, here are a few basic pointers I’ve learned over the years:

  • Rivers flow the path of least resistance from highest to lowest. A river may join another river, but will not usually split. Although, in the case of a delta where the river widens at the mouth of the river and flows into an ocean, the current of the water carries sediment and deposits it, where it looks like the river splits. Of course, nature has a way of surprising us, and we’ll find exceptions.
  • A lake is usually going to have only one river draining it because there’s usually only one low point.
  • Mountains are usually found in a range and are formed through the movement of the earth’s crust. Ones formed by volcanoes will be more sporadic, but still near each other. Think of the chain islands of Hawaii. 
  • The Rain Shadow Effect. This is a carry over from my days at college in my Geography class. Where one side of the mountains is lush and the other more arid. When you’re looking at where you’re mountains will be, remember to consider how they influence the weather and thus the ecosystem around them. Think about the Rocky Mountains. When the prevailing winds bring moisture, the mountains push the clouds upward, causing them to release their moisture in a form of precipitation. Once they get to the other side, the air is dryer and thus the landscape is drier.
  • You won’t have tropical weather next to the frigid air of the arctic, unless of course you have established a reason for it. 
  • Now for the people groups. Normally, you’re going to find their settlements near water sources. Port cities will be more inland and sheltered and have a deep harbor. You can’t have ships sailing in and out in shallow waters with a reef. Where you place them, will determine the type of foods they’ll eat, the clothes they’ll wear, the homes they’ll build, and so on. And what better way to explore this than studying our own world!
  • When you’re brainstorming and building your story world, you’re going to want to take these things into consideration, but don’t let it overwhelm you. If you study our own world map, you’ll see patterns and objects that may help you in designing your story map.  And remember, see what your story demands, and then address it.

When I sit down to create the first sketch of a map, I usually have the main character and his/her story in mind and what kind of landforms my characters will encounter.  I begin with the coastline, holding my pencil/pen lightly so that it shakes a bit to help me create a more jagged line. Some people use beans or rice to help them. But I’ve never done that, nor do I want to clean that mess up later. Ha! 

Then add waves along the shoreline. It really makes the map pop! There are several different ways to do this, and I show two styles in the image below.

Then I figure out where the mountains will go, then the forests, then the rivers and other land formations all in relation to where I want my people groups. Then I draw in the settlements on the map or label the area.

If you add a bit of shading to one side of your icons, it will take your map to the next level.

My initial map will go through quite a few changes before I finalize it for print. The map you see here is a sketch of one of the islands in my current work-in-progress.

There are a lot of resources on YouTube that I’ve found helpful. WASD20 in particular. Watching someone else draw a map and explain his steps, gave me ideas on how to improve my maps like drawing individual trees and creating a spine of mountains like you see on the far left in the image. You can click here to see his map-making videos.

I’ve compiled a few simple ways you can sketch trees/forests, mountains, settlements, etc in the image here. You can click this link or the image and it will take you to a Google Drive file where you can download a PDF of it. 

There are so many ways to draw a map. I have seen some lovely artistic styles out there I’d love to try, but I’m not there yet. Ha! I hope you’ve found this helpful. If you haven’t drawn a map before, give it a try! It doesn’t have to be perfect. And no one has to see it. Ha! Whatever you draw, it will help you tell your story.

What do you find the most challenging when it comes to world building and drawing your maps?

Let me know in the comments!

Have a great week!

9 thoughts on “Mapping Out Your StoryWorld Part Three

  1. Kessie says:

    I haven’t really written anything that I can’t look up on Google Maps, heh. But I love drawing maps, and I’d love an excuse to do them more often. I’ve done some pretty fancy ones for our DnD games.

    1. jlmbewe says:

      That’s awesome. Fancy is always fun. More and more I’ve been wanting to write a story in our current world where I can look it up on Google Maps. We shall see! Thanks for stopping by, Kessie!

  2. DJ Edwardson says:

    I love your map! And the little symbol chart is great inspiration. I love drawing maps, but I confess, I hadn’t given thought to the way rivers and lakes work. I may have to give my maps a second look.

    I’m really pleased with the maps I’ve drawn. They add so much to my understanding of the worlds I am writing. I find the most challenging things about maps is to stop tweaking them! They’re a little like writing in that way. Yes, I could go back and do another draft, but at some point the world-building has to stop or the story will never get finished and out into the world!

    1. jlmbewe says:

      Hi DJ! Thank you!!! Seeing other symbols helps to make it feel less daunting, I think. Ha! And I completely agree. We could spend way too much time on world-building. I did on my first trilogy. With my current stories I am writing, I am trying to find a healthy balance between going overboard and just enough. Ha! One of the storyworlds takes place mainly in a city, that has been the HARDEST to figure out and draw. But I think I have a good start to it. Thank you so much for stopping by and sharing!

  3. Jenelle Schmidt says:

    Great information! Thank you for the help with rivers and lakes! I knew there were “rules” but I’ve never heard anyone say what they actually were. 🙂

    1. jlmbewe says:

      Thank you so much! What can I say, I’m a nerd. Ha! It’s a bit of carry over from my geology and geography classes at school. LOVED them. Still have the textbooks. Ha! I never really thought to share about it. WASD20 has a great video on a bunch of the rules regarding map creation. Thanks for stopping by!

  4. Desiree Williams says:

    Thank you SO MUCH for this series and all the inspiration that flowed from it! You were so informative, and I’m super excited to sketch out the map for my next WIP! =D

    1. jlmbewe says:

      Awe, thank you, Desiree! I am so glad you enjoyed the series and that you found it helpful!! Thanks for stopping by!

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