So, you’ve decided to make your very own fantasy novel/movie/video game/RPG/MMORPGTGIF. You’ve already planned out what kinds of unique and interesting creatures will live in your magical world: elves, dwarves, wizards, totally-not-orcs-even-though-they-definitely-look-and-act-exactly-like-orcs, and dragons.
Now, to continue your streak of originality, you want to make a map of your fantasy land, so everyone will know how well you planned out every single aspect and location in your fantasy saga and didn’t just make up a bunch of names and places off the top of your head.
To help you make sure your imaginary realm is as fantastical as possible, here are a few simple guidelines that every good fantasy creator must follow.
1. Set a limit, draw within it
Your map must always be located on the coast of some larger landmass that’s never fully shown. The last thing you’d ever want to do is plan out –let alone draw– the whole dang continent. You want to just share a sliver of the world you created, even though you’ll never actually need to talk about anything that happens outside of the confines of your map.
Once you’ve laid out some arbitrary borders that fit perfectly into a nice, map-shaped rectangle, make sure the people who live in your imaginary world never mention any details about the surrounding land mass aside from vague descriptors, like “the lands beyond,” “the uncivilized world,” or “the place barely anyone of any importance ever goes to for no explained reason.”
Yeah, that’s about as far inland as we’ll ever need to go. Why would anything interesting ever happen beyond that point?
As you can see above, you typically want your coastline on the Western portion of the map, although some mavericks like C.S. Lewis like to change things up a bit.
Woah, there! Facing East? Going against the grain, aren’t we, Clive?
Just remember to never design or show anything that doesn’t fit on your original map outline. As far as you’re concerned, nothing important exists there anyway.
2. Waste yes, want not
Next up, you’re going to have to have a portion of your map designated for an empty, pointless wasteland. There’s no way your mythical people would ever even try to cultivate or establish cities in this one section because it’s already been designated as a wild land of chaos and mystery.
It’s called “The Northern Waste,” ’cause Tolkien was really just trying to fill in the rest of the map at this point.
More often than not, you want to put this section in the Northern part of your map to indicate that no sane person would ever want to live North of anything. You also want to label this place in such a way as to insult any person who could still be trying to live there, so choose names like,
“The Wild Lands of the North,”
“The Mountains of Ignorance,”
I wonder if the residents of that tiny town had any say in the naming process . . .
You can reuse “The Northern Wastes,” but just to be clear how uncivilized this area is, throw in “Barbarian Mountains” for good measure.
Also, make sure you don’t put any distinguishing items such as cities, landmarks, or even geographic features. Just leave the whole section blank so your audience knows how pointless this part of the map is.
No, there’s nothing up there! Of course we never checked, it’s too cold and barbaric!
3. Screw up those seashores!
Since your map includes water, you’ll need to put in coastlines!
You’ll want to ensure your coastline is a jagged as you can possibly make it. Never mind that 90% of coastlines follow a general shape or pattern based on the movement of tectonic plates, just have those peninsulas and inlets jutting in every conceivable direction.
The style you want to shoot for is “Kid trying to cut out a snowflake gets carried away with the scissors and now Christmas is ruined.”
And unlike planet Earth, which used to contain a single supercontinent that split up over billions of years, your landmasses should in know way look like they may have fit together at some point because they were made with magic or whatever.
The Aemerys peninsula looks like a wang because the wizards demanded it be so!
4. The power of The
Lastly, no fantasy world map is complete without a geographic feature named in this style: The [Random One-Syllable Noun].
By adding the definite article, “The,” you’re making this part of the map seem a lot more pivotal than it really is. That way, no matter how ambiguous your one-syllable word is, the location suddenly takes on a whole new aura of importance . . . which rarely pays off since the place only really figures in to the story a couple of times.
Ah, The Gift. Everyone’s favourite Game of Thrones location.
Of course, you don’t have to use a noun, per se. You can go for an adjective like,“The Pale,”
a verb like “The Reft,”
or just use an obscure word for an abstract concept, like “The Eld.”
Oh, you’re talking about THE Eld. Now I get it.
Ooh, and one more thing! Extra bonus points if you can slap on a big, fat desert right in the middle of nowhere with no surrounding geographic features that would actually allow such a region to exist.
Why is that large area so arid if it’s right next to the water?
Just right there, beside the forest? That’s where you put it? OK then.
Alright, now your map of Alvaerinïmant is ready to go! Glad I could help you get your fantasy world up and running. Stay tuned next week when I tell you the eight secrets for creating a mythical language without having to rely on linguistic consistency or grammatical structure.