THE WHOLE MAP
How much of your map you draw depends on you and your story. Start with what is important to the story and when you have time, you can draw maps for other places as well.
When you draw the main area, whether it be an island, a whole country, or just part of a country, start with the outline and geography. Draw the main borders, add some geography, and figure out its climate based on its position. I would suggest drawing borders within an area after drawing the geography, as rivers are often used as borders and they can help give your world a more natural look.
If you’re making up the whole world with all its land masses and whatnot, I would suggest creating one giant landmass, cutting it up, moving the pieces around a bit, and then adding and taking away some coastal lands to change the shape a bit.
When focusing on an area and with a story in which characters travel, it’s a good idea to figure out the distance so you know how far and how long your characters need to travel. To do this, compare the map to a real-world map and come up with a conversion for distance (ex: 1 inch = 15 miles).
If you have trouble coming up with borders, coastlines, rivers, mountain ranges, and other geographical and political locations, grab some maps or an atlas and trace small parts of real world places for your map. Put them all together and you’ve got a whole new world.
Stuff to Include:
- Compass rose
- Names of geographical places
- Symbols to represent settlements
- Bodies of water
- Geographical places such as mountains and deserts
- Important major roads
- A legend for these symbols
- The trail that your characters travel on
If there are important settlements in your story, it’s a good idea to make a map for your own reference. Some settlements are (in order of smallest to largest): hamlets, villages, towns, and cities. Of course there are other settlements, but the terms used and what they mean vary by region.
Before you make your map, you should consider the following:
- What is the population? How many people make up a village or a city is up to you and it should reflect the population and the population density of the fictional region you’re writing in.
- Where is it located? The first permanent settlements started small and sprung into cities while farms and villages popped up around them. These settlements were also near water and other resources, which brings us to the age:
- How old is it? The oldest settlements will be near water no matter how much technology is available in the time period you’re writing in. Older settlements were not built with the technology needed to transport water to far places. How old a settlement is will also affect the architecture and the artifacts and structures found nearby.
- What is the layout? Newer settlements will typically have an organized layout based on the geography around the settlement. Older settlements may be organized as well, but are more likely to have roads built around permanent dwellings and buildings rather than the other way around. If your settlement is organized, build the roads first. If it’s not, mark structures first and build the roads around them.
Roads & Buildings:
Like mentioned above, the layout of your settlement depends on geography, roads, and structures.
It would be best to start with the geography, such as hills, bodies of water, and forests. Once you have the general geography of the settlement, you can either put the roads down or the structures.
Organized settlements should start with major roads. How many you have depends on the population size. If there are only a few hundred people in the settlement, there may only be one or two main roads with several minor roads. The main road should lead people to important areas of a settlement, such as a government building, the roads out of the settlement, and other non-residential buildings or structures. However, there can still be residential dwellings. The minor roads should come off the main road(s) can lead to anywhere from residences to parks. To differentiate between the main roads and minors roads, draw the main roads as thicker lines.
Unorganized settlements usually, but not always, start with the structures and without a plan of what this settlement will develop into. While organized and pre-planned settlements are more likely to cut into geographical areas rather than work around them. If your settlement has less grid-like roads and more random placements, start by placing all the structures of your town before drawing the roads.
These types of settlements will still have some type of structure. For example, non-residential buildings tend to be in one area with the occasional stay building. This is usually where a main road ends up. Residential buildings are more random. How far apart they are depends on the type of settlement and what the people at that residence do. Farmers will have more land while those who don’t work off the land or who work outside of their home may or may not have smaller properties.
Draw the oldest roads in unorganized settlements first. The oldest roads usually end up being major roads whether they are straight or curved. The minor roads will go next or there may be no minor roads at all.
Now you have to name your roads and buildings. You don’t have to name all of them, but it can help for reference and it can help build your world.
If you are building a city rather than a smaller dwelling, there are more tips for that here.
Climates and Ecosystems: