LESSON Mapmaking

Discussion in 'CREATING WORLDS & SETTINGS' started by Minibit, Feb 23, 2013.

  1. We've all been there. You want to draw a map, or write a description of the geography of your area, and that blank paper is just staring into your soul, its untarnished surface mocking every second of your hesitation. You start to ask yourself the question that has crippled writers since written word began:

    Where do I even start?

    Historically Speaking...
    Most of you who have studied history (even high school level) know that the modern layout of a country is usually only slightly different from when it was first settled. This is because people congregate around natural resources.
    So a good place to start is to consider what the country's main resource is: it may have more than one. If it makes most of its income off of fisheries, then it is probably near an ocean, or full of lakes and rivers. Get creative; is your country the homeland of a particularly fine-fleeced sheep? Perhaps you should focus on plains and farmlands, textiles are as good a national income as any! Once you’ve figured it out, pencil in the natural resource your country survives on, do it randomly and without consideration for cities and man-made areas.

    At Arms!
    Any country in its infancy needs to think of defence. Ask questions like ‘how will it protect its resources?’ Consider how advanced your country is when it comes to construction and weaponry. Do they rely on magical barriers or man-made fortresses? Perhaps there are unscaleable cliffs helping out? Maybe a large portion of your country’s border is on the coast of the ocean or sea; make sure to provide a good naval force if this is the case.
    Something to avoid when writing fantasy worlds is to rely on things like cursed forests or dragon-infested mountains as national defences. It’s impractical and unstable for a country to rely on an area they themselves won’t go near to protect them, and living beings are fickle; it’s unlikely a country would settle itself near a known habitat for large, dangerous creatures to begin with.

    Is it liveable?
    The presence of a profitable resource is a good incentive, but the land needs to be liveable as well. Unless you are intentionally writing a harsh area (and if you are, make sure your populace has a damn good reason to have stayed there instead of looking for a place less likely to kill their children), you should consider whether or not people could get the basics of life out of this land; in order to have farms, there has to be more water source than just the coastline; add a couple rivers, or if the surface is barren, there should be underground lakes or rivers. This is equally true for forests and wildlife; there has to be edible plants and drinkable water in the area, or natural life that humans need to survive would die out or move on. Consider also how the lay of the land would affect natural disasters like tornadoes tsunamis, forest fires and earthquakes. A flatland would be an engraved invitation for run amuck tornadoes, and a country with a large coastline is unlikely to have many cities within tidal-wave distance of the shore, and a country without many rivers wouldn't have much inland water available to quell a forest fire… you see what I'm getting at?

    A Place to Settle Down
    Now that we've got the geography down, it’s time to doodle in some cities! Let’s start with the capital. The capital is the largest, most important city. It is typically where the government buildings are located; and it is likely to be at a point that is important to the country’s economy (read: near a primary resource such as a fishery or oil field). Choose an appropriate location, and draw it in. Now consider that this city is big, and will need supplies brought in from other areas; so there will be main roads and smaller cities/districts around it. Find some other points that would be used and defended as points of income/resource, and pencil in some other major cities. Deciding small town locations is trickier; usually small towns have small resources; so they also need to be near points that they can survive off of, such as a lake for fishing or a mountain for mining, but save the major arteries for big fish.

    Some general tips to remember when drawing a map are:

    • Don’t design the land with cities and roads in mind: people build over the land, the land is not built around the people.

    • Even if your people are super in-touch-with-nature, they still need to use it to survive. You’re going to need some areas that are clear-cut, blasted away or dug out to provide room for cities and farmland, if they do not occur naturally

    • Your country will need to trade with other countries to make an income to provide for its people with. Make sure there is some means of transit for this.

    • Similarly, no city is likely to have everything its people want or need to survive available locally; be sure your country is able to trade between cities as well.