This blog is a follow on from my previous one on realistic societies.
I spend a lot of time making maps, badly. I’m not particularly good at drawing and don’t have the first idea of how to use any of the cad or image manipulation software that some people use to great effect in mapping, but I’ve always been fascinated with maps and enjoy making them when I have time. I think that they’re also a pretty important step in fantasy world building for a number of reasons.
One of the things a fantasy writer has to give some thought to, something that is perhaps not so big an issue for a fiction/historical fiction writer, is distances and travel time, and they have to be consistent. For this, a map, drawn to scale, is utterly invaluable. Add in a little research that is appropriate to the technology level your world is based around on travel speeds and you’ve got something to work with. Sailing speeds, marching speeds, riding speeds, walking speed all gives you an idea of how far your characters can go in a day, and how long it will take them to get to wherever it is you need them to be.
The next thing that they are useful for is to work through what physical geographical features are going to impact on the characters over the course of their journey. It’s a reference point that allows you to make their behaviour a little bit more consistent across the board. If a city is on the coast but surrounded by mountains on its landward side, they’re far more likely to travel by sea than land without good reason.
It can also fuel creation; the physical features of the land might explain why a city is where it is, and what the events were that made it an attractive spot. Venice is a nice real world example of this.
As with all background work for a novel, just because you know it, doesn’t mean it needs to or should go into the story. Just because I know it takes my character three days to get from A to B, doesn’t mean I should devote any more than a sentence or two to the journey!