Thursday, April 28, 2011

Writing 101: Map Making

Today we have a hands-on workshop here at Paper Hangover. We're going to be making maps! This project is designed for those of you writing secondary world fantasy, but anyone can join the class if it sounds fun. ;)

So, I have this problem. Whenever I try to draw an imaginary land mass freehand, it ends up looking like a piece of fried chicken. To wit:

Oops. (Don't even get me started on those southern rivers that don't make any sense.)

I was all proud of myself for this one until my boyfriend pointed out it looks like a thigh. God damnit!

So, I don't bother freehanding it anymore. Instead, I spill stuff. But before we get into the messy part, let's examine why exactly you might want to make maps.

Get real, Lauren. Fantasy books with maps in the front are so 1990s.

I want to make it clear that these maps you're drawing don't have to be for readers. If your characters travel around a lot, a map might make it into the book, but otherwise probably not. So the two main reasons you'll want to draw some maps for your story are:

1. Come on, maps are cool.
2. So YOU can keep everything straight!

Because of number 2, I recommend you draw maps for the towns or cities your story takes place in, and even floor plans for the buildings. Otherwise your character might end up walking to school uphill both ways, and nobody likes that.


Paper (I'm using blank sheets for the pictures, but you can definitely use scrap paper)
Old coffee, black tea, or red wine
A large waterproof surface
A pen or pencil

Now, quite simply, we're going to make a mess.

Dribble. Splatter. Splash. Pour.

Press two sheets of paper together or fold them in half. (Caution: may start to resemble a murder scene.)

Leave the sheets out to dry.

Now, you're going to get a lot of amorphous blobs, long thin streaks, and just generally stuff that doesn't look anything like land masses. But somewhere in your collection of spills should be some usable shapes. When the paper is completely dry, outline them in pen or a dark pencil. Definitely take advantage of tiny splatter marks -- islands!

This one kind of looks like severely squished Europe from some angles, but we'll ignore it this time.

The paper you spilled on is going to be warped, so you'll have to get a clean sheet and trace over the original. Now it's time to fill in the blank space!

Use whatever key or color coding you like to indicate various natural and manmade features. The main thing you want to keep in mind is avoiding a Patchwork Map. So:

-Got a mountain range? Find which body of water is closest to it. On the opposite side from that body of water, you will have a desert, grassland, tundra -- some sort of arid landscape. That's because the mountains squeeze all the moisture out of the air before it gets to the leeward side.

-Think about other ways in which climate relates to geography. For example, the so-called "desert island" doesn't really exist -- small lone islands get a lot of rain because there's nothing blocking them.

-People need fresh water. If you have rivers, there will be settlements on them. If you have big rivers, there will be major cities on them.

-Rivers originate at high elevations and follow the path of least resistance to the sea. In flat areas, they will wind a lot, but not in hilly ones.

Of course, this is all assuming your world has Earth-like geology. Feel free to throw this advice out the window for awesome reasons, such as a magical river that springs up out of nothing. :)

In contrast to the chicken pieces of my earlier days, here are a couple of maps I've made for my stories using the spill method: Dominy, Kolay and Chosa. The Sunset Sea in that second one was a product of uneven spillage!

If you have any questions, tips, or corrections (hey, I'm not a geologist), please leave a comment. Thanks for reading, and good luck with your map making!


Holly Dodson said...

That's a really genius method, Lauren! Thanks for sharing. I'm gonna have to try this...

Michael L. Martin Jr. said...

This is probably the coolest way to make maps I have ever seen!

Marquita Hockaday said...

How awesome is that? I want to write a fantasy just so I can try this method. Awesomesauce...truly!

Sophia Richardson said...

Sounds like fun! And, y'know, helpful.
- Sophia.

Pam Harris said...

Such a cool trick! :)

Lori M. Lee said...

Wow, THAT IS GENIUS! haha. (also LOL @ the thigh comment) I'm totally doing that :D

Emy Shin said...

this is seriously the best idea for map making ever! i am totally going to try this out. :D

Krispy said...

This is so super genius! I totally can't draw maps for beans (not even when I'm just copying a map), so this is definitely something I want to try out. What a brilliant way for getting organic shapes!

Alicia Gregoire said...

This is such an awesome trick. Printing, bookmarking... AWESOME.

Hannah said...

This is the coolest thing ever. I must try it!