Novel Map–The Benefit of Illustrations


A Piri Reis map

So you think you’re finished with your fantasy novel, but this nagging voice in your brain says not yet. You’ve got to SHOW everyone the beautiful world you’ve created. You want to turn that hand drawn quick-reference map into a masterpiece.

Why? Because illustrations are the decorative fringe sewn to the cuff, the halo around the moon, the sugar in your coffee. Illustrations make everything a little bit better.

Your reader can reference your illustration and may find it just as useful  and stimulating as you, the author, did. It’s one thing to explain your world or a tedious plot point over the course of your novel, but a simple picture can be worth 100,000 words. 😉

So do it!! If you write better than you draw, you may need to enlist some help. That’s perfectly fine. There are professional cartographers out there. There is even special software to help you along. (Really wish I’d known that six months ago.) Check out to find some help and for mapmaking DIY’ers.

If you’re unsure whether you really need a map or just want one, answer these questions:

1. Is the setting in a world other than our own?

2. Are there multiple towns/areas that will be difficult to remember?

3. Do the characters go on a lengthy journey?

4. Did you already draw a map to help yourself remember things?

Saying yes to any of these warrants a map in my opinion. Lucky you! Here’s what to do first:

Gather your paper, pencils, world map, and imagination.

Using the world map (or any other old map), find an area you really like and study it. How does the coastline curve? How much water is there–rivers, lakes, etc? How are the highs and lows of mountains depicted? How many cities are marked?

Using what you learned as a reference, rough sketch your world.

1. Delineate water and land with a dark line for the time being.

2. Place towns here and there.

3. Mark your rivers, wrapping them around some of your towns.

4. Sketch in some triangles for mountains.

5. Add landmarks unique to your novel.

6. Make a colored line for your characters intended journey.

Following the steps in this order will minimalize erasing, since there will already be plenty while your novel grows and is edited.

Then fill in areas with any of these:

1. Swamps
2. Deserts
3. Islands
4. Roads
5. Religious sites
6. Forests


When you’re ready to finalize the map you can either bust out your drawing gear (for the art savvy), or upload a scan onto your computer. From there you can either pass off your sketch to a friend or cartographer, OR get busy cleaning it up with Photoshop, Corel Draw or a similar program. (See above for link to download AutoREALM program).


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