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Fantasy Map-Making Tutorial. (To be updated and improved)

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Wed May 30, 2012 9:10 pm
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TheSunChildren says...

Hi everyone. I am here today to give you all advice on a matter of 'cartography' (or map making) for fantasy stories which include fictional lands and countries.

I find that this helps me write my novels an astounding amount, it actually shapes the path my characters go on and I can state with precision the path they go on. The purpose of this is to see if it helps other people, hence it is a tip for writing.

I have noticed that not many people have tried or even dared to attempt making a map for their story, but it is easier than you think (or so I think).

Many of you may have actually seen my maps on here and thought that they look a little complex, but really they are not. They all start off from basics (save for my original designs, but my more recent maps follow a basic structure). The way I will teach you may seem completely absurd, or it may seem logical, but as you will see, it does work as long as you are quite patient.

As you know, the recent server moves on YWS have subsequently caused all images on the site to disappear. As such, this tutorial had been rendered useless as it is near impossible to interpret from words alone.

I thought it would be a good idea to start again. Looking back at what I had done before, there was a lot which I left out in terms of getting an accurate and believable shape. I will keep this tutorial much simpler than before to make it less confusing, and hopefully the pictures can more or less speak for themselves.

I am using a new technique this time than before. I think this is much more suited to people who have difficulty making the smallest decisions.

So here goes:


Draw a random ‘blob’ or interesting freeform shape. Whether you believe it nor or not, this will be the core of your map! It can be absolutely any shape you want, so long as it’s not a recognisable one.

Your random shape should have some areas that stick out, like the drops of a paint splatter. Put a dot on these points like I have shown. This is where you will begin to transform your blob into a formidable piece of land. When you have done this, put a dot roughly in the centre of your blob. This it the heart of the land.

From the central dot, begin to draw curving lines to connect to all the other dots, like a spider’s legs stemming from its bodies. Make sure you make all these differing lengths and mostly different directions; these are what will eventually form the refined shape of the land.

From the longest of the ‘legs’ begin to connect the end of the leg to the next one along, but as you do, follow the shape of the blob, so it is like a larger version of the original blob, only extruded across different branches, giving it a more expansive and land-like form.


Once you have gotten the complete shape you can begin to layer it up more to give it more interesting areas. Just play around with this, add more small blobs, odd shapes, scribbles here and there – you will know what looks right. Eventually your map should look like a form with a lot of bits eating away at it.

Rub out everything inside the map. This includes the original map lines that you drew before adding the parts from STAGE FIVE. You should be left with quite an interesting shape, certainly more realistic looking. Now then, you will notice there are arrows next to the map, which will be explained in the next stage.


Don’t worry, I have just used a different map with this, but the same principle still applies. The arrows mentioned in the previous stage and seen in this one represent where the ocean will hit the land. If the water presses into the coast, it will find its way inland. As such, many river mouths will open (though you don’t have to do this, as not all countries will have this) It just makes it look more fantasy like and as if nature has been battering it. You’ve just got to mould the land into a weathered look, as if cant just look ‘shiny and new’ It has to look like it has been there for thousands/millions of years.

This is one of the trickier stages. It involves giving your land a more detailed edge. The magnified section will show you the original lines and how I have gone around them, adding random points and indents. Some of these indents will eventually go on to form rivers etc. You can also at this point, begin to add in small islands around the edge, but make sure they follow the direction of the ocean currents as shown. Rub out the old basic lines as best you can so you are left with an interesting edge around your map. Once you have done this you should be left with a much more realistic looking map.

Last edited by TheSunChildren on Wed Mar 27, 2013 10:50 pm, edited 3 times in total.
Not many remember how life there began, in the lands amidst surrounding walls of stone and pools of deep darkness, but whilst they forget the secrets of the past, they begin to riddle the future with their growing lust for knowledge, greatness and power.

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Wed May 30, 2012 9:41 pm
TheSunChildren says...

So here we go, part two!

Let’s just go straight into it then!


What I am showing in this stage is how to create realistic river mouths and estuaries. You’ve got to think once again about how the ocean is pushing into the land. For this stage do not worry about the rest of the rivers, they are explained next. What is important however is that you make the river-mouths ‘twisty’ (unless of course they’re manmade) but ideally the water needs to funnel into the land, with a wide mouth and small neck, so to speak.

This stage shows how you should be drawing your rivers. It seems a bit odd to have them just wondering around the land as a lot of maps do. You’ve got to be logical about this. Every river has a source. Oceans do not always push all the way inland, and so the water has to come from the land itself. Mountains are natural water sources, collecting rain and, if they’re high enough, snow. This water will fall into a river below the mountains which then stems off across the land, and ideally towards the sea. The other way you could decide the direction of rivers is to identify low-laying areas in the land. It you have a natural basin, water is more than likely to collect there, just look at the example, showing downhill areas with rivers running to them.


This is the stage where you will begin to add in some landmark details, starting with mountains and cliffs. To start off with, try and find two opposite river mouths in the land, and then widen them a little so that they cut quite far in, all being well it should begin to look like two landmasses have been pushed together over millions of years. It is here that mountains can form, when two bits of land are thrust into one another and the only way they can go is up (or down in some cases, making more likely river beds) Do not be fooled though, as mountains can also spontaneously appear across the landscape. In terms of cliffs, look for a straight or moderately neat edge on your map. If you really wanted, this could be treated as a place where lands once connected (which will allow expansion within your stories?) Cliffs form where two landmasses once split away, usually overshadowing a beach below. Look at the illustrations I have included, they show you how to draw mountain ranges with shading on them (and also how rivers flow away from their foothills) You can also see how to draw cliffs.

STAGE TWELVE – The final stage:
Now you should have a map which looks interesting in shape, with natural landmarks, mountains and rivers etc. All you really have to do now is to add in the final details. Trees are one of the more thought-provoking features, as they can often be quite expansive, and the borders of forests can often look strange. Your best bet is to place your trees around water sources. Forests most commonly grow at the base of mountains because the water pours down into the ground and makes it easily fertile. If there is a dip in the land, trees may grow there for the same reason, and wherever there is a river, trees will also grow. You can place them randomly across the land, but just make them look realistic. You can see how I have drawn them in the image, and they are quite easy to do. I have also included lakes in the image, showing what they could look like.

So just be creative, and your map should look great!
All being well, if you have incorporated all the stages, it should look something like this:


So I hope you have enjoyed the tutorial and found it helpful! Feel free to post your examples, I’d love to see them!
Last edited by TheSunChildren on Thu Mar 28, 2013 10:28 am, edited 2 times in total.
Not many remember how life there began, in the lands amidst surrounding walls of stone and pools of deep darkness, but whilst they forget the secrets of the past, they begin to riddle the future with their growing lust for knowledge, greatness and power.

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Thu May 31, 2012 10:58 pm
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octopi says...

this is really interesting! I've made a couple maps myself, but never this way. I will have to try this! thanks for posting :D
that awkward moment when a sentence doesn't end the way you think it octopi.

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