Sunday, September 4, 2011


I have been working on my fantasy novel for over two years now and I have been stuck for the last year, at least. I didn’t know what the issue was; why I couldn’t seem to get anything worthwhile on paper. I got plenty of garbage on paper, but nothing worth keeping. For the life of me, I couldn’t figure it out. So I was cruising around Facebook the other day and I came across this great blog on mapping. No, not story mapping – world mapping (fantasy world mapping). There was my “AHA!” moment. I couldn’t write anymore because my main character had left her home and was beginning her quest – and I had NO IDEA where she was going!

Sure, I had a mental map in my head, a general idea of where things were; but a general idea just wasn’t going to cut it now that I had to write descriptions for her journey. I needed to know what direction she was traveling, what was in her path, what wasn’t in her path and where she was going to end up. Not only did I need to know where, I needed to know who – who she was going to meet up with along the way. Was she going through towns? What kinds of people live there? What about forests? What kind of animals lived in the forest? What kind of flora and fauna would she encounter and was any of it dangerous – and did I NEED any of it to be dangerous (just another monkey wrench for her to deal with). Was she going to travel on roads or a path or make her own path to her destination? I knew I wanted her to travel by carriage at the beginning and then switch to horseback, but what kind of terrain? There was so much more than I had planned out in my head!

Once I realized I needed a map, my next step was to figure out how to make one. Did I want to draw one? Not really, I’m artistically challenged when it comes to drawing (especially anything to scale). How about an online mapping generator? My biggest problem with that is that I had trouble finding a free one. I’m sure there are some free online map generators somewhere in cyberspace, but now that I knew what the problem was with my writing, I was in a hurry to get started on my map so I could free up my mind to write my story again. I did some cursory searching but quickly realized I was going to have to at least start on paper and hope for the best. I did find some great websites with some really good information on building a fantasy world and writing fantasy, so I’m sharing them here:

storm the castle website

SFWA website

Magical World Builder Website

Where the Map Ends Website

There is so much more that goes into writing a fantasy novel than just a great story and interesting characters. There is the physical world to build, including the terrain, the cities, the oceans, rivers, streams, etc. There is also the population, the main character, who she interacts with, what kinds of people live in which kinds of places; there are also animals – both mythical and otherwise. There is history to write (for our own knowledge of back-story) and also cultures to develop, caste systems to plan, rules of magic to determine, physical rules of the world – it makes my head spin to think of the details that need to go into just planning my novel! Here I thought I had this great story and all I had to do was sit down and write it! Now that my eyes are opened, I know I have a lot of planning to do.

Have you found there is more to writing fantasy than meets the eye?


  1. Try NBOS Fractal Mapper. You can get a free unlimited trial version from That's what I use to draw all my maps. I am also artistically challenged, and don't have a lot of money to through at programs. The only problem with the trial version is you can't save it as a fractal map, and come back to it later. You can save it as a bitmap though. I hope you find this useful.

  2. One way that I learned to make maps is get a big sheet of paper and sketch out a rough (VERY rough) outline of the country or continent. Then, I get an atlas and a piece of tracing paper and trace interesting coast lines. And remember that you could even use county borders, rivers, or state borders for your outlines. If you combine different ones, especially from different magnifications, you'll have a believable looking map in no time.

    Also, reading about histories from across the world will drum up ideas and perspectives that you'd never have thought up before. It will help you not just with your physical map, but the entire culture you've plopped your MC in.

  3. Thank you both for the advice. I tried the fractal mapper and it was fun, but a little more detailed than I am ready for. I think I am going to just do a rough sketch as Sarah suggested for now. I'm sure as my story progresses, I will need to fill in more of my map and many more of the cultural details than I have thus far. I have to say, I enjoyed playing with the fractal map, though!