Maps have long been a source of fascination for me, especially when it comes to the genre of fantasy. My first experience with fantastical maps was with J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit. For me Middle-Earth was a far cry from the tedium of where I grew up, but since I lived in a rural area I could relate in some small way to the Mirkwood forest and such.
What I liked best about that map and fantasy maps in particular is that it allows my imagination to wander around that world. It sparks my curiosity about what certain cities, town, or geographical areas are like that the author doesn’t explore in his work.
Of course maps are a way to track where the characters are within a story, and help establish the context of the fictional world that the story takes place in, but for me maps are much more than a plot device.
When I was a teenager I started playing Dungeons & Dragons and other table top ‘pencil and dice’ role playing games. Yes, I am that old. A big part of those games was maps. Not just the glorious full colored maps of stuff like the Forgotten Realms or Ravenloft but a big part of game required players to map out the dungeon or haunted castle they were exploring. I often was the ‘dungeon master’ of the games and would hand draw a map for the campaign I was running at the time. A big part of the fun was simply drawing/designing the map itself. I think a big reason was that making a map of something that existed solely in my imagination made it feel much more tangible. It was no longer merely daydreams and ideas. They were places you could journey to, albeit in an imaginary way, and required the basic use of navigation.
I often make maps while writing my own stories, in particular if it is going to be an ongoing series, or my current weird western novel, or a dark fantasy novella I’m working on, too. I think it helps me stay on track as far as where everything is and what lays between points A and B. A map also helps spark new ideas and plots. Geography and climate plays a big part on the development of cultures in real life and it also applies to fictional worlds. So I think that it’s important to know what/how those are in a fictional world while developing a kingdom, clan, or etc.
My maps tend to be hand drawn. I feel much more comfortable doing it that way. I’ve seen some digitally rendered ones that are impressive but for me pencil and pen is the way to do it. I have messed around with using GIMP (a freeware program similar to Photoshop) to digitally color the maps and do the lettering. I’m fairly pleased with the results and it’s a big time saver for doing that type of work.
So, let me know in the comments below, are you a fan of maps in novels? As a reader do you pay attention to them or do you skip that page? If you’re a writer, do you draw up a map for your own use while working on a project?