Foah's Cartographing Tips and Tutorial

Discussion in 'World Building' started by Foah, Jul 31, 2013.

  1. Foah

    Foah Troubadour

    *RESERVED FOR FUTURE MOD EDIT. While awaiting microphone equipment for the YouTube part, some theory crafting is provided ahead of publication of the YouTube tutorial. Check back shortly (few days) for a link to the clip that will replace this placeholder*

    Here follow some good things to keep in mind while planning or creating a map of your world, or chosen parts of it. These go in no particular order by the way, and are some theory crafting additions to the YouTube tutorial itself.

    Why draw maps?

    Maps are incredibly useful for many things, some of which are more obvious than others. Instead of listing noteworthy upsides of having a map, I'll write a bit about how it's helping me in my writing.

    I put a lot of effort into world building for my stories. Partly because it's purely fun and no chore, partly because it's a world that I'll use for all of my fantasy writing for as long as I can foresee. As with all great undertakings, an overview is a great advantage and a great tool. What's better for an overview of your own world, than a map?

    I started out writing about the kingdoms, smaller states, cities, towns, rivers, mountains, places, you name it. After pushing close to 1,000 notable things that could go on a map, it became increasingly more difficult to maintain a clear vision of the world without a map. Sure, I had ideas of where the places "would" be, and in some cases I had clear ideas of correlation between some points. City X is Y miles from Town Z, etc. This wasn't good enough after a while, and I sorely needed a map to help me out. I went on a research spree, getting some quick knowledge on natural landscaping and started drawing my map.

    Once I was more or less content with the shorelines and how they related to my preconceived ideas of the world, I played around for quite some time in Photoshop. And I came up with this in the end:


    While I'm not unhappy with the end result, I'm firmly out to make a more detailed revision later on once I get my hands on better hardware. Creating large size maps will take a toll on your PC.

    But the purpose of the map has been served! After finishing the map, I've had a much easier time writing coherently about the geography in my world. If Group A in the story are side tracked to Spot B on their way to Spot C from Spot A, I can work easier knowing exactly where these places are on this big map.

    Scales, measurements and sizes.

    A good thing to start thinking about right away is the size of what’s being portrayed in the map. Maybe you’re going for a 1:1 sized world in comparison to our own, or maybe you’re just going for a map measuring a couple of acres. You also want to consider what uses you’ll put your map to; do you just want a small ¼ desktop sized image for reference when you’re writing, or do you want something that would be of acceptable quality and dpi for print on 24” by 36” posters?

    As an example, we’ll take Person A. Person A wants a map that shows a continent that covers around a third of the diameter of the globe. Person A also thinks that his world and his planet is about the size of earth, perhaps slightly smaller. Our earth has a diameter of roughly 7,900 miles or 12,750 kilometres, so Person A thinks that 7,200 miles for a diameter is quite okay. Since his continent is landscape based, and just shy of a third of the world’s diameter in width, he knows that his map will need to scope 120 degrees, or 2,400 miles, to fit the continent inside the edges (these are even numbers for simplicities sake, and I’d advise you guys to try to get easy measurements as well).

    Person A also wants to make sure that his map will be readily available for high quality printing on up to 24” by 36” posters, so he wants to work with 300 dpi to be safe.

    From this information we can state some measurements that Person A will use in the end. He will create a document in Photoshop/GIMP at 24” by 36” at 300 dpi (since his map is landscaped it will be 36” by 24”, or 10,800px by 7,200px). *NOTICE: Working on documents this size requires really good hardware on your end*. This means that 30 degrees (maps usually have vertical and horizontal lines to mark degrees) on his map will mean a width of 2,700 pixels or 600 miles. This gives us:

    1 degree = 90 pixels = 20 miles. Easy conversion rates, and this will be very helpful for Person A who loves when everything’s just right from the start. If you want horizontal lines to mark degrees, you’d get a scope of 80 degrees since the height of the map will measure 7,200 pixels and/or 1,600 miles.

    Person A sure wanted alot from his map, so how about we quickly mention Person B? Person B just wants a map to use for herself as a reference for her world build and story writing. In this case, Person B can pretty much play loose and careless with the techs, and go with what feels right ^^

    Shapes in general.

    The shape of your continent(s) and costal lines in general can be tricky. Don’t beat yourself up if you find you’re making fun of yourself for the ridiculous coastal line of your gazillionth draft. Most people have a rough idea of how their map will look. It can be anything from the simplest of ideas such as having Xtown in the north, Ycity in the south east and Zvillage next to mountains in the west, to more detailed ideas with clear intentions of where rivers will run, rough distances between points of interest etc. Either way, coastal lines and shapes will be tricky if you allow them to be.

    In the beginning of the YouTube part of the tutorial I’ll show you a great way to build your coastal lines with ease. As long as you have an idea in your head, the video will help you through making “natural” coastal lines that won’t have the viewer stop and stare at it, thinking something’s off.

    The one piece of advice I'll give you is that you DON’T waste too much time redrawing the lines. The more you want to change them around for no map breaking reason, the bigger the risk of drawing lines that are too coincidentally perfect and borderline unbelievable. If there are some pointy places here and there that you want to carve out, that's of course just fine - just be careful about drawing too many perfectly shaped bays and stuff like that. Instead of shaping the map according to where you want your important cities and castles, place the cities and castles on advantageous points on the map after it's drawn.

    Landscapes and geography.

    Something that can be worrisome to some people drawing maps is the question “where?”. Where can I put mountains, rivers, hills, lakes, fields? Rather, where should I put them?

    Personally, I don’t think this is a problem that merits any bigger portion of your time than an hour or so, if even more than 5 minutes. You’re creating your very own fantasy world, and if you’re not ready to study the science behind natural landscapes thoroughly, I see no reason to worry. If you want to have extreme differences in elevation near each other (say a mountain directly connected to a lake) that would be unusual or uncommon, but not impossible.

    Some short pointers

    Rivers go downhill. When you draw rivers (this is explained in the YouTube part aswell) you want them to originate from hills or mountains, or any place where rainfall would be gathered.

    Mountains are usually formed by friction from tectonic plates. While this shouldn’t limit you too much, it’s a good thing to keep in mind. Avoid drawing Mordor wall-like mountains for god’s sake.

    Lakes are much like mountains often formed dependant on tectonic plate movement. Other common reasons for natural lakes are melting glaciers (allows for lakes thousands of feet above sea level in mountains), volcanic craters. The logical reasons are many so you shouldn’t have any trouble justifying the position of your lakes.

    If you have any questions after having read this intro and watched the YouTube part (DO watch the YouTube part as it stands for 90% of the actual map tutorial), you’re obviously welcome to post. I hope this will be of some help to at least one or two of you world builders out there.
    Last edited: Jul 31, 2013
  2. Daichungak

    Daichungak Minstrel

    Waiting patiently... :)
  3. Bpeter

    Bpeter Acolyte

    Is the youtube video done yet? :)
  4. Jackarandajam

    Jackarandajam Troubadour

    Thank you, thank you for the tips. very helpful and appreciated!
  5. Tanihatu

    Tanihatu Scribe

    Nice thread and thanks for the tips!
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