Mapmaking, Part II

assorted map pieces

Last week, I made my first in a three-part series about mapmaking for your books. In that post, I talked about the basics: things every map should have regardless of style or genre. In this one, I shall talk more about the creative side of things, and three important things you should consider before making your final map to present to the public.

The first thing to consider is what you are making a map of. Is it a real place or your own fantasy world? How big an area are you going to cover? Will you need more than one map to convey everything?

If you are making a map of a real place, your work is half done, as you need not worry about arranging the features in a way that makes sense: they’re already arranged for you. However, this does put the burden on you to get everything right. You can’t claim to be making a realistic map of Germany and decide the Alps would look better to the east, for instance. If you are making a map of a place you invented, you of course have more liberty to decide what goes where. However, you still have to do so in a way that makes sense within your world. You would not want generally to place a hot sandy desert at an equal latitude to a snowy pine forest, for instance.

Next thing to consider is the style. Is this map for kids or adults? Is the book a light-hearted one where cartoony symbols will work, or should it be done in a realistic style to fit in with your epic drama? Genre and audience are as essential considerations in this as they are in every other facet of book production, so be sure to look at plenty of examples to get a feel for what will look right. And obviously, if the book in question is part of a series, you’ll want to maintain some consistency in style throughout.

Finally, you should always keep in mind that your space is limited. You can only cram so many symbols and labels on your map and still have it be somewhat legible for your readers. Ideally, your symbols cover only those elements that are absolutely essential to the plot, with perhaps a few extra landmarks thrown in to add depth to the world your story is set in. This means that if your map is covering a larger area, there’s no point in cluttering it up with smaller objects, unless it is absolutely essential that you mark where a certain event happens or an object is found, etc.

Additionally, your map may be more general or more story-specific as the situation calls for. If you’re making one map for an entire series, for instance, you may want to make it fairly general. For stand-alone books, your map can be more custom-tailored, as it were.

These are the most important elements, of course. Other considerations must be taken into account as well if your map is to have just the right balance of creative flair and functionality. In my next and final post on the subject, however, I shall be focusing on the actual act of creating the map itself, whether by hand or by software, and what you need to keep in mind with either method.

Until then!

Published by J. S. Allen

J. S. Allen is a writer, linguist, historian, and nature-lover from Kansas City, Missouri. He is the author of the young adult series Sauragia and Knights of Aralia, as well as the 'Woodland Tales' anthology for children. Several of his shorter works have also appeared in various print and online periodicals over the years. In between writing and publishing, he likes to draw, spend long hours outdoors, and read. His favorite authors include M. I. McAllister, Brian Jacques, and Alexandre Dumas.

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