Worldbuilding : Maps

At the start of the year I started looking into releasing a second edition of my book with new additions I had learned about. There were many lessons in marketing and design I wish I had known initially when I first published my book to make it appear more professional. I finished a new cover that I felt looked more polished and eye catching and also wrote up an author bio which is a lot more common to have than I initially thought. But I think the most eye-opening inclusion was the map however.

Much of the feedback I had received was regarding the need for a map. A map would help the reader to visualize the world better as well as visualize locations mentioned but never visited in the novel. About halfway through June I started designing the layout of the world I created and it forced me to answer a lot of tough questions I hadn’t initially thought about. The world suddenly felt a lot more real than it ever had before and truth be told it put me in a very uncomfortable but necessary situation. In my mind each continent had its own unique features to it that I hinted at while writing but never truly cemented in my own mind. It wasn’t until I drew out the world and the shape of each continent that I had to think about the geography of each area. But the geography of each continent shapes the civilization that’s developed. How they travel, what they eat, what natural difficulties do they face and so on. I couldn’t randomly throw in geographical features without considering the ramifications to this world. But looking to history, it’s easier to draw parallels to how landscapes had affected already established ancient civilizations. I drew on this for inspiration and it helped immensely.

After that it suddenly became so much easier to develop and solidify the cultures of the world. There was one content in particular that I struggled to design because my mind kept racing between different historical civilizations I wanted to draw inspiration from. However once I shaped the continent, made it distinct from the others to promote the specific design of that world faction, namely a seafaring people, it became a lot easier to think about exactly what pieces of different civilizations I could use to inspire and flesh out this people.

It also got me thinking about the idea of time and space in this world. How long does it take to travel from one place to another? Is it a few days or a month? Is it feasible for civilizations to contact each other and if not what prevents that from happening? What mode of transportation was needed to move from one place to another? How much faster is it than walking? It creates a question and a real challenge for the people of this world I created. The fun part of course is creating obstacles that prevent certain faster paths from being taken. For instance I have one continent separated by an impassable ocean on one side and a maelstrom on the other, forcing only one real entry way into the area.

Requiring time to travel allows characters moving from one place to another develop along the journey. A road trip for instance is a great time for characters to get to know each other better. Two or more characters could grow a stronger bond or simply just hate each other more in that time. Rarely do characters embarking on a long voyage ever stay the same from beginning to end. But I think my favorite opportunity travel time allows is for character reflection. Giving the protagonists or antagonists time to reflect on what they’ve done or what they’ve witnessed could allow for them to reveal aspects of their character that might not be as obvious through their actions. Drawing out the map allows for the distance to be established rather than arbitrary as the reader can see the distance and challenges the characters face in their journey.

I regret to admit that I vastly underestimated the value a fully formed map can have. It allows for a greater insight not only for the reader but for the writer as well. The hard questions I faced helped me to realize the world I had created far better than any other exercise I’ve done so far. I can’t recommend it enough for any fellow aspiring author to try the same and experience the challenge and reward it can offer.

Hope this helps!

– Raphael

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