To map or not to map? An important question for #fantasy and #scifi #writers

The world of Maladine at the time of The Prince of Graves

I have always maintained that one of the fundamental responsibilities of the fantasy or science fiction writer is the responsibility to create a contextually plausible setting for the story to take place in. Actually, this is a minimum requirement for a successful story. If the writer doesn’t deliver this, then the events of the story will seem to be occurring in an emotionally detached ether of sorts.

To help gel together the fantastic realm in a fantasy novel, the writer will often create the fantasy map. Now you can give a reference point for the Mystic Tower in relation to the Dragon Hoard. But for the indie author on a budget, this seems to be a potential problem. At least, it is for me. I’m not a strong graphic artist. I can’t really draw, and my design skills are challenged (but it looks good in my head!).

I started my map on a paper sketch pad, and went back and forth on the layout for months. Eventually I digitized it with my Lexmark scanner, and then I imported it into GIMP (open source freeware). Once there, I started trying to clean it up. The image you see above is the result. The problem, of course, is that it’s obviously the work of an amateur. Middle Earth it isn’t.

So now I’m presented with a question: do I continue to clean it up and use it? Do I forgo the map entirely and allow (at least for this first novella) the reader to imagine the world of Maladine? Or has the map become so expected that I need it, and I should be looking for a tool or artist to create it?

Right now I’m leaning toward keeping this one, assuming I can polish it up a bit more. But I’m very curious how other fantasy writers overcome this little obstacle. Any suggestions?


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30 Responses to To map or not to map? An important question for #fantasy and #scifi #writers

  1. shayfabbro says:

    It’s all I can do to afford my cover art let alone someone (or software) to do maps. BUT my friend Ron Leighton does his in Microsoft Paint. He imports in the scanned image and basically redraws it using paint. His look super awesome! I have been thinking of doing this but for me, it’s the time issue! I have other books to write and a day job to worry about so maps are sort of low on the list. If I DO manage to get one done, I will have it on the website rather than re-doing the paperback and e-books.

    • W.E. Linde says:

      Thanks for that Shay! I’m impressed that your friend uses Paint. GIMP is pretty powerful, but it’s limited by me and my lack of experience using it. I share your time restrictions too. I have a greater need to write, but I’d love to get a solid map out there. That’s a great suggestion to have it on the web page too.

  2. I don’t really pay a lot of attention to maps in novels, but yours looks pretty darn good to me. I’ve seen some in traditionally published books that weren’t particularly detailed. Some are the opposite, of course. It’s not my area of expertise, so don’t go by me, just wanted to say I think you did a good job on it :-} Nikki

    • W.E. Linde says:

      Thank you so much for that! I appreciate the input, and I especially appreciate the comment on my map. I think it can be usable, but there’s a bit of work that needs to still happen. But thank you again!

  3. I can go without looking at a map in novels, so long as (this is the big thing for me) the author knows where things belong. Building world maps seems to me to be a greater need for the author than for the reader.

    • W.E. Linde says:

      Thank you Jeff. That’s a very interesting thought, that the author needs it more than the reader. It kind of echoes other comments I’m hearing. That’s definitely something to think about. Thanks for that!

  4. Good post, William. As a reader I rely on maps for situational context. I find myself occasionally referring back to the map especially in complex stories where events are geographically dispersed. I would argue that maps are useless in Sci-Fi, but that’s another thread. I agree with Jeff, as an author it helps me keep the threads of my story consistent, respecting time and space. I also agree with Nikki. I think your map is quite good and rises above the amateur. I do everything in Photoshop and as you say, we are limited to our savvy of the software.

    • W.E. Linde says:

      Thanks very much Jeff, for the input and especially for your kind remarks on my map. I’ve received a lot of good feedback on this topic, and you make a great case for keeping the map. I tend to agree with the scifi comment too, though it has been used to good effect in some books. I know that photoshop is a powerful tool, and I may purchase it one day.

  5. As a reader, I never found the maps to be very useful. In the cases where I’ve referred to a map, it’s because I’m lost and I feel like that’s a failure of the writer to put me in that position. I’m not a writer, but I wonder if having a map might actually become a crutch?

    • W.E. Linde says:

      A couple of people have brought up that possibility now. One person on twitter suggested that it is great to have, but the story has to be able to stand without it. I tend to agree. Thanks Ted!

  6. Lisa Cresswell says:

    I created a map for my own reference for my story, but never thought about including it in my ebook. Now you’ve got me thinking about it…Hmmm. 😉

  7. Bob Young says:

    you have your map so you can write in context. My imagination will do the work for me as I read.
    Good luck with the book. Don’t forget to tweet when it’s out.

    • W.E. Linde says:

      Thank you Bob! I find it incredible the range of opinions on this topic. I can see that a common thread throughout seems to be that the story, if a map is included, needs to be able to stand alone.

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  9. Pingback: To map or not to map? An important question for #fantasy and #scifi #writers | | The Writing WenchThe Writing Wench

  10. I’d say use a map, if you can. Some readers will find it useful. Even people who don’t refer to it may find that it adds a sense of authenticity to your story. Speaking of which, it seems to me that maps in your world would all be hand-drawn. Maybe your map should be hand-drawn as well.

    When I was a kid, we used to use black fountain pens to draw fanastic pirate maps on brown paper – torn from a shopping bag, complete with rough edges. When the design was finished and the ink was dry, we’d crumple them up into balls – smoothe them out, and repeat many (many) times. The result was very cool and very old looking. Sometimes we burned the edges with a lighter, to add to the impression of age.

    If you draw your map by hand, age the paper and then scan it, I bet you could get something that looks like it belongs in your fantasy world. Parts of it might become difficult to read or make out, but doesn’t that add to the authenticity?

    • W.E. Linde says:

      Fantastic Jeff, thanks! It’s funny because I was trying to use my GIMP software to achieve a similar effect, since my drawing skills are limited (the map in the article started hand drawn). You’ve given me something to think about. Thank you

  11. Kate Elmer says:

    I love a good map as a reader and tend to refer back to it often as I read. As a writer, I found it essential to at least create a map for my own sense of geography and setting…whether that map makes it to the boook would be up to publishers I would think cause I sure as heck aint no artist.

    • W.E. Linde says:

      I’m with you Kate. I originally drew up my map for reference as I started writing stories in this world of mine. But I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t have the idea to include it at some point in my books. It’s just that now that it’s getting to be decision time, I’m not sure the quality is there. Thanks for your comment!

  12. nickrolynd says:

    I like your map. I’ve tried making more modern maps, and some of them have turned out alright. I have one on my computer somewhere that I drew a few years ago I think looks pretty good. It could still do with some polishing though. =P

    • W.E. Linde says:

      I appreciate your comment Nick, thank you! I’m going to try and polish this a bit more over the next week or two. I’m going to be self publishing this novella shortly after the copy editing is finishing, so toward the end of February. Not a lot of time, but I may be able to get to a point that I’m happy enough with it to share. How have you drawn your maps…freehand or through software/Photoshop?

      • nickrolynd says:

        I’ve drawn them both ways. I usually sketch with pencil, scan it, and then trace over my sketch in Photoshop/Painter. For more “modern” maps, I add grid lines and color and what not.

  13. Hi William. Excellent question. I feel that if you do choose to have a map that it should work the same as an outline. It can be an invaluable guide to the author in moving along a story line, characters, and locations. A map can help you to remember your setting for the present scene in your story, helping you with mood and descriptions. It can also help you to empathize with your characters current situation and plight as well the hurdles they must overcome to reach the next part of the story.

    • W.E. Linde says:

      Thanks Brian! A couple people now have compared the map to an outline, and that’s a really good point. I’m pretty certain after all this discussion that I’ll keep the map, because I think (as you say) that it’ll help the reader keep track of what is going on where. Thanks for your input!

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  15. I use Campaign Cartographer for my maps, and I love a map in a fantasy book.

    • W.E. Linde says:

      I had never heard of Campaign Cartographer before. I just did a google search, and now I’ve saved the link. I’ll certainly explore that more this evening. Thank you!

  16. I expect a map and refer back to it while I’m reading. Even a middle-grade book needs one, and not just for the young readers, but for the writer. My map (Heartland of another Earth, overlaying the US and parts of Canada) is still a little messy but I have it on my website in full color thanks to an artist who sent me the first color version out of the blue because we were both in Rachael Harrie’s Platform Building Campaign. You can see it at through the book tab at the top. I think I left a link to the artist.

    • W.E. Linde says:

      Thank you for your comment! A few people now have stated similar sentiments. I tend to agree with you that, especially in a fantasy novel, a map is expected. Thanks for the link. I’ll definitely check it out!

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