by Rich Feitelberg
Let's talk about maps and their role is the world building process.
Wait a minute! Why do I need a map? I don't write about fantasy stories.
Well, first of all maps aren't just for fantasy stories. And second, most stories will benefit from thinking about the locations featured in them and placing them in the larger context of the world in which they exist. You may not need many maps and you may not even have to create them yourself but even a short story about a single location could benefit from a map. It can be a simple floor plan where the action takes but it's a good idea to plan a little so the story can flow naturally around and through the location.
Of course, some genres scream for maps more than others. Fantasy stories pretty much requires a fair bit of world building and lots of maps. You need maps of towns and the surrounding area and you need area/world maps showing typography, vegetation, resources, political boundaries, wind currents, ocean currents, latitude, roads and, trade routes. You don't need all this all at once and if you apply Tenet 1, then you’ll only build want you need as you need it.
Space faring stories may need maps of planets and star systems.
Period places and historical fiction may benefit from maps of the period.
And if you write some other genre you may find a map here or there beneficial because it helps you describe a location.
Obviously depending on the needs of your story, you may be able to find the maps you need as you research for information about your world. This is most likely for historical fiction and stories involving real life locations. But others genres require you to create your own maps.
How do you do that? Well, you need a graphics program like Photoshop so you can create them. Another option to investigate is random generators. They can create world or area maps quickly if you don't care about the shape or typography of the world. If you do, you need to roll up your sleeves and draw something yourself.
I use Photoshop for my map of Thalacia because the roads are in one layer, the vegetation is in other, and so on. I use a trick from wargaming and place a hex grid on the map so and figure out where to place trees, coastlines, cities,and other objects. Hex grids are used to simulate natural boundaries. The grid is in its own layer so I can hide it easily.
To create town maps, I’m using a new program I found called Cityographer. It does some of the work for you and then I export the map and edit it in Photoshop.
For floor plans I use Dungeonographer and draw what I need.
As you can see there's a lot to do, which why Tenet 1 is so important, only create what you need.
So with a few maps and some general notes on the world, you’re ready to take a deep dive. Actually you'll need several. We'll look at one those next time.