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Realistic maps


So, map-making... I have been searching for so long after a good, detailed and realistic map-making tutorial. I find it easier to write when I can actually see my protagonists journey and to make plots for future projects. I want to make a real map; with a realistic environment with forests, oceans, deserts etc that can coexists like in the real world. With travelingdistances that you can measure and that seems believable.

Can anyone point me in the right direction of where I can find the information I need to make this map?


Myth Weaver
My first question is what do you mean by realistic?
Something that the USGS or OS release?
Something more parchment and pencil like Tolkien's?
or a super-satellite cgi-like image?
Any way, I start with pencil and paper. I can rough draft a dozen maps on paper before I can do it once electronically. I don't think about realism at the start, I try to get the feel of the place first.
I use the next four sites for inspiration.

woodge.com: fantasy maps
Historic Cities: Maps & Documents
International Map of the World - Perry-Castañeda Map Collection - UT Library Online
Country and Regional Map Sites - Perry-Castañeda Map Collection - UT Library Online

Or just searching on Google [other search providers are available]

I have found these sites to be useful:
Peter's guide to map creation: How to create fantasy maps
Rolling your own
Cartographers' Guild - a community for maps of fantasy, sci-fi and real world locations
World Builders Home Page Build Your Own World!!!
Help:Mapmaking - Constructed worlds
Their information doesn't always correlate and can take a bit of reading-between-the-lines on occasions but there is a lot of info and different approaches.
And I did find a few tutorials and hints on DeviantArt [but I can't find a link on this computer].
If you do have access to Photoshop there are some very helpful Brushes that you can load in. There is one pack that gives you the look and feel of a Tolkien map.
I have Photoshop [Adobe CS3] and a small pen and tablet [Wacom Bamboo that cost about £30].
Maybe not up to Photoshop standards I have to mention Serif software. For the price [and that can be free] it is very good.
My method is to draw a loose map with mountains, forests, cities, rivers and borders, anything that is important for the story [but there is usually a lot of white space around them]. Then I keep scraps of paper as I write for more detailed maps and later I try to pull them together as I get towards the end. This can mean redrawing and sometimes rewriting what I've already got.
Reading the OP, Cartographer's Guild is what popped into my head. Not sure if there are tutorials there, but as I remember it is a pretty deep and active forum around doing maps.
I've eyed the ProFantasy software for a while.

They've got overland, cities, dungeons, etc., etc. Originally designed for RPGing, but I've heard other people (writers) use it as well.
I got the same idea in my head for awhile, and it taught me some things I hadn't realized. First, digital cartography is harder than it looks. Second, even with tutorials, it takes time to learn. Third, my schedule doesn't allow for that time. I do hope to learn someday but for now it's just not feasible for me. If it is for you though, I highly recommend hitting up the Cartographer's Gild that GroundedTraveler mentioned. The website is: Cartographers' Guild - a community for maps of fantasy, sci-fi and real world locations They have some tutorials and everyone is really active and helpful in the forum. You could also contract one of their members to make it for you, but I don't know the details of how that works. If you decide you don't have time, I recommend paper and pencil, or clay. I prefer clay because I can do that with my toddler around, much easier than anything involving paper or computers. If you don't already have the artistic ability, then it won't be as detailed or beautiful, which is something I had to get past. Once I reminded myself our craft is painting pictures with words, not other mediums, I was able to take what I needed from my humble attempts at maps and write the rest.

That's just my experience though. Good luck!


Cartographer's Guild is a great resource for tutorials on how to make your own maps. Ideally, you'd get software like Photoshop (or a free equivalent (GiMP comes to mind) and play around with it for quite some time to learn the basics. Chances are you'll want to make changes to your map as you go along, and it's helpful to know the software to make sure you don'ät have to start from scratch and follow the same tutorial again.


I made this map a while back, and was supposed to write up a tutorial for others; I just haven't gotten to it yet. However, I know that there are similar tutorials over at Cartographer's Guild. So, my suggestion is to go grab some software and learn it, and you'll be able to make maps with ease :)


toujours gai, archie
I agree with CupOfJoe regarding that word "realistic". It could mean well-drawn and pleasing to the eye. You probably want that anyway, but I read your post as meaning you want a map that does not make jarring geographical mistakes. Software can help with the former (but be prepared to invest many hours that you could have spent writing), but not with the latter.

There's obvious stuff, like making sure all your rivers run into the sea, or at least nearly all of them (some go underground and don't come back up, but these are rare). Don't put a jungle on top of 15,000 foot mountains. Large cities tend to grow near water. That sort of thing.

Less obvious is knowing what sort of forests go on what kind of terrain, where one might find a salt lake, or how strong tides shape a coastline. You can get all the way down to soil types, climate change, ocean currents.

The question (to me) is: what do I need in order to write? For myself, I do fine with crudely drawn diagrams no one sees but me. If I should ever want a map, I'm going to swallow hard and hire an artist/cartographer. In other words, there's what I need in order to write, and there's what a publisher would want included in the finished product.


Thanks guys for all your advices! I managed to find "Fractual Terrains" and generated a beautiful map. Through Gimp I then gave it a more handdrawn-look and I feel so satisfied with it! Now all there is to do is to add some cities, roads etc.