To Create a World: Part 1: The Map

8:00 AM

*small shrieking sound*




Ehem. Sorry. Just had to get that out of my system.

I love world building. Now I will make you love world building.


Creating a world may be fun, but it is far from easy. There are many elements to creating a believable fictional setting, and many more to creating a good one. I'm not sure how many posts this series will include, but it is going to target the creation of a fictional world. This is aimed towards Fantasy writers, not Sci-Fi (although I might take on the challenge of creating a galaxy, I have never done so before and am thus inadequate to give advice on such a thing).

There are many steps to this creation process, but the first step (if you're starting from scratch) would be to make a map. If you already have done other work on your story world, that's fine. But I think it's easiest to start with a map (really, you can start pretty much anywhere) and I have to begin somewhere, so this first post will contain my map creation process.

Part 1: The Map

Making a map takes time. I usually draw up my outline and put down the major places on my map, then hang it on the wall near where I do most of my writing. I will gradually build on it as I write the book/series. The map for my WIP has only recently been mostly completed, and it took about seven/eight months to do so. So don't stress and try to do the whole thing right now! It's okay if your map is empty-ish for a while. It'll grow as the story does.

There are several steps to creating a wonderful map. I am by no means an expert, but I'd like to think that, of the things I'm good at, this is one. So I'll walk you through my process of making a map.

NOTE: I am going to be creating a new fictional world as I create this post series so you can see my process from scratch. I have no book idea to take place in this world. I am creating it just for fun you.

Step #1: The Outline

The outline used to be the hardest part for me, but it doesn't have to be. It can actually be really simple. This is what I do.

First, I pick a country on Earth. It can be a continent, an island, or even our whole world. But I pull up a map of it and study the outline. I'm going to be using China for the basis of my inspiration of this map.

Here is a screen shot from Google Maps that I will be referring to:

Thanks, Google!

NOTE: Do not let yourself be bound to the map. If you start to feel the creative juices flowing and want to add something that's not on the map you're referring to, DO IT. You want to make differences. You want your story world to be unique. This is just a guiding line. To see how land masses look around the edges.

See those islands? Beautiful. (I'll definitely stretch beyond China for this.) So grab a piece of paper and get to work. I usually do this without watching my hand. I stare at the map on the screen and go a bit longer in places and a bit rounder in others. I might add the shape of India to the top right of China rather than the bottom left. Get creative. Don't worry about making any mistakes. Not yet.

ANOTHER NOTE: I flipped this picture on its side while I made the outline. This is a good idea if you don't want anyone to have any idea you're using whatever country you're using as a reference.

Alright, now I've made my outline.

This is the bare outline. Nothing fancy ... yet.

It's a little hard to see, since I didn't draw it very hard and the scanner didn't pick it up that great. I edited the photo to make the lines really stand out, but even so, I drew lightly so I could tweak as much as I wanted. You might not be able to tell much about the outline, but I took some liberties with it. I also did this map in a way I've never done before. Normally, I make a map of the whole world. But on this map, the sea is to the left of it, but there is land beyond the map. So this only covers part of the world I am creating, which is okay. A lot of maps are like that. Go check out a book.

Now, this is completely barren and empty. It's just an outline, after all. Which leads to ...

Step #2: The Terrain

Land and ocean. Mountains and valleys. Rivers, lakes, streams. Hills and fields, forests and deserts. The different types of terrains are incredible. We have a lot to work with, and that's just using what kinds of terrain we already know. You can even invent a new type of terrain, if you want!

NOTE: Be sure to make a 'Legend' on your map so you can keep track of what symbols you're using for what.

As you create your terrain, this is prime time for culture ideas as well. I'm making a strait in my map, and straits have reefs. So this could be a popular tourist attraction. People could come far and wide to see this great reef. The islands around it could contain some of the largest cities in this world, heavily populated. I could go on and stretch out from there. The possibilities are endless.

Think about your book while you're doing this. Are your characters travelling a lot? Find out where they grew up. Find out where they go. What challenges do they face in their journey? What is the weather like? Do they have to cross frozen rivers or raging ones? Jungles or forests?

Alright, here's my map with some terrain to spice it up.

See, it has nice, pretty terrain now. YAY!

I'm not sure how well you can see this. I edited it quite a bit to try to bring out the changes. Hopefully you can see enough.

Okay, so I added some rivers, a couple of deserts, a big mountain range, some farm land ... Looking pretty good, huh?

Now for perhaps the trickiest part. Even harder than outlines. Harder than what terrain should go where.

*drum roll*

Step #3: Names

Yes. The dreaded task of naming each and every one of those rivers, mountain ranges, and deserts. Every city, all the islands ... UGH.

I will say, you do not have to name everything, but you do have to name a lot of it.

There are many ways to do this, and I do all of them so that I can get as much variety in naming as possible. You can just pull names off the top of your head. You can use a generator (I don't do this, but I know a lot of people do). Since I'm basing this world off China, I'm going to look up a list of places in China and tweak their names. For example, I could take the 'na' of China and put it in front to make 'Nachi.' There's a name. Not a very good one, granted, but it's a name, isn't it? I could tweak it a bit more. Na-Chai. That's more tolerable. I might stick it on a small city.

So, yeah, do this. The names of a lot of places don't matter that much, but the names you should focus on/put the most effort into are definitely the world, the kingdom or province that the bulk of your story takes place in, and the big, key cities in your book. Those are what readers will pay attention to. Those are what you have to use most. Make them sound good. Make them realistic. Make sure they're easy to say. Have someone read them to see if they are pronounceable. Of course, you want all your names to be like this, but especially the ones that will come up a lot.

I've got a common theme going among my names now. Tapti, Guan, Shanghou. Lung-Zhi, Na-Chai, Zhen-Shou. Then you don't need a generator. The names just kind of start coming (usually).

And now I've named my top three provinces: Khamir, Tare, and Chenpei. (I did come up with this really quickly, so don't blame me if the names are a little strange.) Now I shall show you scanned version with names. (Because I know you are absolutely dying to see.)

It has names now! YAY!

Ehem. This isn't my best map ever, but I'm kind of happy with it. (I have a story idea for it now, which will be really fun to write whenever I get to it. There are already several in line, so it'll have to wait a while.)

So there we have it! Of course, these are just the basic, general steps to making a map. Every map, just like every story and every writer, is different. As you write, you will figure out more about your story world and landmarks and big places and stuff and can add them to your masterpiece. But now you have the basic map to work with! Fun!

That was long. And it took forever. But I hoped it helped! Now go make a map. Don't worry about failing. If you fail (which is highly unlikely, given all my positively stunning advice) you can just toss it and try again. If you're not comfortable putting a picture in the comments, please email me and show me what you created! I'd love to see your work. :)

Next week I will post Part 2 of To Create a World on ... *drumroll* You'll find out. MWAHAHA! Can you guess what part 2 will be? Gold star if you can. XP

So drop by next Saturday. I hope this post was helpful! Did I forget anything? Do you have any other thoughts about map making? Please share in the comments!

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  1. I LOVE YOUR MAP!!! And I liked that you used Asian sounding names as oppose to English. I'll be interested to see where this goes, I enjoyed how passionate you were throughout the post.
    I'm personally not a big map person, but the idea from my current WIP (ironically) started with a map. Not a very good or pretty map like yours, but a map it was. I am very proud of what it has accomplished. Thanks to you, it is now up on my wall!

    1. Thank you! I am so glad it's on your wall!

  2. Thank you for the tips! I have done a lot of World building, but not maps. I think it's going to be fun to try.

    1. Thank you for reading! I hope it helps :)

  3. Oh, yes, I think this will be very helpful! I tried making a map for my world before I even started to draft the story, but then I freaked out because it wasn't perfect, and gave up. :P But I'm getting to the point where I'll really need one, so I might have to try this soon. :D Thanks for the advice!!!

    1. Yes, don't be afraid to mess it up. You can always try again! Good luck!

    2. *grins* Thanks! *is probably going to have to figure this out reeaaally soon, given where she's at in the writing process*

  4. Commenting today 'cause I just started my map. ARHHHGGG WHY! YOU MADE IT LOOK SO EASY!!! What if you pull your ... Shapes (places)?... From different actual places? I'm being stubborn and not using a name generator, and the names I come up with are rancid. A.k.a. horrible if you want me to make sense. To be fair I've only spent a little bit of time on the map so far, and it should get better as I progress (no terrain quite yet since I also went out of order... feel free to fore shame me..), but I can be impatient sometimes.
    Literally one place is called Volmauna and I just can't be in the same room as this map. What have I done...
    Really cool post! (cough cough... thank you Mighty Worldbuilder... Cough cough... :p)

    1. Lol! Your comment cracked me up! Names are really hard. Just keep looking up names and twisting them around until you find some you like. You've got this!

  5. THIS IS AMAZING AHHH. Thank you for writing it <3 It helped in me making my map.

    1. I'm so happy it helped because I LIKE HELPING AND

  6. Great advice! Will definitely use these ideas.

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