Maps, Maps, and More Maps

I love maps! I find atlases to be a huge source of inspiration and I always end up drawing some sort of map or another for every NaNo project that I start so I know where my characters are going. Recently someone pointed me towards this medieval fantasy city map generator which I’m having fun playing around with.

For those of you out there who also love maps, how do you use them for your stories? Do you draw them by hand or use a generator? Are there any resources that you would particularly recommend to fellow writers?

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Uhhh that generator is amazing!

I really like using https://inkarnate.com/ to play around. I don’t typically keep the maps, but use them to plot out journeys or to get an idea in my head as I’m doing my land descriptions. Whenever a book has maps in it I refer back to it often. I super enjoy having the visual.

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My primary method of mapmaking is something I read about on https://www.cartographersguild.com/ ;

You take a bunch of dried beans or those flat-backed glass beads and drop them onto a piece of paper. Move around the major shapes until you’re happy and then do a preliminary outline in pencil. You can refine the edges more after you sweep off the beans/beads but it’s a really good way to get in basic shapes for a world or single continent map.

Personally, I prefer to draw them by hand because it gives me a chance to visualize what goes where. Sometimes the map comes before the story because I’ll come up with a name for something or a landmark and a story will come out of that. If the map comes after I use it to track where I am in adventure stories so I can pace events and landmarks appropriately.

I sometimes mess around with the generators on https://donjon.bin.sh/ though, when I need an idea or I just want to see what comes up.

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Surprisingly, I just draw them up by hand! They’re not amazing granted, but I usually find I have specific details I want to include and then the rest becomes a case of “this FEELS RIGHT”. I’ve also learnt that I find drawing roads really relaxing, for some reason :sweat_smile:

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Is the inkarnate good? Or the cartographers guild? I’m thinking of signing in that inkarnate but don’t know whether to sign in also in cartographers guild.

Inkarnate is supposed to be an easy method for people who aren’t already familiar with programs like Photoshop and GIMP. Personally, I didn’t care for it, but I’m coming at it from the perspective of someone who has experience in graphic design software. The results are definitely very instantly identifiable as an Inkarnate map, for better or for worse. I don’t care for the aesthetic, but that’s a very personal thing. There are also some issues with copyright if you intend to use it for anything other than personal reference.

I do HIGHLY recommend Cartographers’ Guild, though. If anything, it’s a more valuable resource than Inkarnate, since it’s platform-neutral, has tons of resources, and is full of people who will help you if you have questions.

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Since these haven’t been mentioned yet…

Wonderdraft
Azgaar’s Fantasy Map Generator – My personal favorite, and, yes, you can use it in manual mode.

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Is Cartographers Guild free? I didn’t find anywhere the FAQ section so. I’m only asking because I don’t have like tons of money to use on such stuff.

Yes. It’s just a regular forum, free for anyone to sign up and use.

If you were looking to have an artist make something FOR you and hand over the rights, that would be different. You can arrange commissions there, but the regular forum itself is free.

Ok, thanks. I might pop in and see.

Those generators on donjon are amazing.

“Good” is relative. I enjoy plopping little trees and swiping terrain across the map. It’s quick and easy if you’re trying to get a basic layout established. But the lack of full customization options are certainly subpar. I use it a lot because it is very basic, but I would not use it if I needed an actually usable map.

I love that medieval city generator! I started using it last NaNo. I’m never completely satisfied with the results because I generally already have an idea in mind for my cities, so I take one of those maps from the generator and export them. I then import it into Adobe Illustrator and change/grow them to fit my needs. The map for the capital city in my fantasy novel is pretty detailed now with farms, an aquaduct, wells and public fountains, etc. It’s a lot of fun!

For maps of countries/the world, I always used to draw them by hand. Now I use Photoshop an just free-form everything until I get something that I like. I downloaded a brush set for the mountains and trees to make them look a little nicer. I may redo them all this year as part of NaNo prep. There are a ton of great step-by-step tutorials on YouTube for creating fantasy maps.

EDIT: I am now adding a map I did last year of Shehlon in Illustrator. It’s messy, and I’ll likely redo it this year during prep. But, you can see the various buildings and tiers of the city, as well as the aqueduct in orange.

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It’s also a good place just to browse and see how other people tackle mapmaking. There are some incredibly creative solutions and they have really good discussions about things like where rivers and deserts show up on a continent if you’re aiming for realism. I learn something new every time I browse their forums!

I have a world map in progress right now, that I’ve been drawing with Procreate and many, many watches of Artifexian’s world-building videos. I haven’t made a city map of my main location yet, but it’s on my to-do list.

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I hand-draw my maps, typically in pen/fountain pen. Let me see if I have an example…
My current world (most recent picture of the map):


I’m pretty sure I’ve added to it since this was taken, but this is the gist of it. Also, note the watermark where I somehow spilled something on the page… lol.

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I draw them by hand on the computer. One’s in the link in my profile. The map, itself, is best viewed here. Use it if you want to.

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Since we’re showing examples, here’s my map from the current novel!


(For clarity, the darker line in the city is a specific route for their protest march :stuck_out_tongue: )

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Well, I joined The Cartographers Guild and don’t know exactly how to navigate there but… I hope it’ll be helping place. I don’t know how to draw so I hope I can make maps there, if it’s even that kind of place.

Do you find that the free version has everything you need? Or do you pay for a better version?