Mapmaking, Part III

My last two posts have been concerned with how to make a map–real or fantastical–with which to enhance your book. In them, I was concerned primarily with the basic structural and creative elements necessary. In this final post on the topic, I will briefly go over some final points to keep in mind when drawing maps, whether by hand or by software.

By Hand

If you have the artistic skill set to make your map by hand, then you are fortunate indeed! You will be able to create a work that is completely unique and custom-fitted to your book or series. As mentioned previously, you need to have in mind what you are going to draw beforehand. If you are portraying a real place, of course, you have to present things as accurately as possible. You’ll need to keep objects to scale, so keep plenty of measuring devices on hand. Tracing a pre-made map might be a good idea in this instance, or at least using one for reference, if you’re not good at scaling.

If you are making a map of a fictitious realm, however, you have much more creative license. Yet, not as much as you might think. If your map is based on the text of the book you (or the person you’re illustrating for) has written, then you have to be careful and pay attention to every detail regarding the placement of objects or landmarks relative to each other, as well as distances if the area covered is large (a whole “world map,” for instance). In the latter case, you may even have a specific scale to work with, especially if travel times and distances are important to the story. You can’t have a passage in which the distance in the story does not match the approximate travel time suggested in the story, unless of course events intervene to delay or speed up the characters’ movements. Most readers may not notice such discrepancies, but it only takes that one nit-picking fanatic to spot your error and then self-righteously go and tell the rest of the world about it on social media to make for a very bad day.

For the act of drawing itself, you want to have your map relatively to-scale when you draw it if possible. You could draw it larger, but keep in mind that with shrinkage, details could be lost. It is also a good idea to know what you’ll be drawing beforehand. Make a rough sketch with all the features on a scrap piece of paper first before you commit pen to your really good paper. And when you finally do, you may even prefer to draw everything out in light pencil first, just so that it’ll be easier to erase if and when you make a mistake. Then you can go over it with heavier pencil or ink later. Another good stratagem is to draw your map in pencil, then set some tracing paper on top of it and trace the lines with ink there, rather than on the original.

By Screen

For those endowed with less artistic skill and without the time or means to attain such a skill set, there is the alternative of using modern tech to fulfill your mapmaking needs. If you still wish to trace the lines of your map by hand, you could make use of a drawing tablet and a stylus to draw out your features in a way that you will be able to erase and delete lines without worrying about making smudges on the paper. This may be considered “cheating” by some, but if it serves your purposes, that’s what matters in the end.

For those who simply want something that works yet still looks marginally professional, there are numerous mapmaking softwares available for purchase and download. They vary in the range of features and abilities they offer, so you’ll have to look around a bit to find one that suits your needs and technical abilities. Some will undoubtedly suit your purposes better than others.

I myself ended up using Campaign Cartographer 3+ to create the world map for my Sauragia series (the results of which can be seen up above). It was a bit counterintuitive to use at first, in that you select the tool, make the move then click the execute button, but once you get used to it, you really can do quite a bit with it. Add and subtract features, move them around, resize objects, and more–all with several styles available. And with its vector-based graphics, you can get your map made in high resolution at whatever size you need!

That’s all I can think of for now, but as always, if you have any specific questions on this post or the subject of mapmaking in general, feel free to let me know, and I’ll get back to you as soon as I can. Hopefully this series wasn’t too boring, and has inspired you to get out there and give your cartographic skills a try!

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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