In Part1, I covered some basic tips that really help move your worldbuilding along. Now, I want to talk about landscape and map making. [Note: If you missed Part1, you can find it here]
When we think worldbuilding, we immediately think of, well, the world itself. What does it look like? Who lives in it? What is the climate like? The landscape? Culture? Geography? All these things have to be considered and addressed to some extent, and it can get overwhelming. So here’s three ideas that can make things easier.
6. Hack Your Map Making
If you’re in the process of drawing a map for your worldbuilding project (or are thinking about doing so), there’s some pretty simple things that can go a long way in making you map making easier and more enjoyable. I learned most of these the hard way, so you don’t have to:
- Work from thumbnails
- The Drawing Disciplines and Design courses I’m taking this year have taught me lots of new things about how to approach a project. One of the big things I’ve learned? Thumbnails actually help. If you don’t quite know what you want something to look like, try sketching out several small versions of it and playing around with the composition. It’s better than being halfway into a project and going: “dammit, I wish I’d painted these mountains just a little to the left.”
- Do yourself a favour and get a posterboard
- I’ve learned that life gets infinitely easier when you do things right the first time around. Back when I was young and naive (this was two years ago) I wanted to design a large city, and I had the brilliant idea of taping together different papers to create a larger surface. While this was certainly creative, it was not helpful at all, and now I’m stuck using tracing paper to transfer my design.
- My point? If you’re going to do it, do it right the first time. It will save you time and make your work so much better.
- “But I’m artistically challenged!”
- If you want to do some worldbuilding, don’t let the fear of the blank page get to you. It’s something that hits us all at one point or another, and it’s something we just need to get over. Worldbuilding isn’t about being artistic or non-artistic, and there are plenty of ways to get around poor drawing skills. After all, there’s a lot more to creating a universe than painting a complex picture or making a perfect sketch.
- Work in pencil first
- This one’s self-explanatory. Make rough drafts and be forgiving about it. You can always make a pretty version later on.
- Learn some new computer skills
- One of the amazing journeys my worldbuilding adventure has taken me on is the journey of computer programs and digital design. Though I don’t know what I’m doing half the time, it’s fun to play around, and it’s even more fun to see fancy-looking results. If you want to try out some computer-assisted drawing, I recommend you check out programs like GIMP or photoshop, and check for some map making tutorials online.
- The Cartographer’s Guild is a wonderful place to start for help with this. I highly recommend their Easy Hand-Drawn Map and Artistic Regional RPG Map tutorials. You can also check out their Quickstart Guide to Fantasy Map Making for even more helpful tidbits.
7. Follow The Landscape
Although map making is all about creativity, it is also about realism. To a certain extent, every map has to “look” right – its features have to behave according to the laws of physics/geology/nature, even if those laws are different for your world.
There’s so many things to consider here, that forming a believable landscape is really, really hard. Sure, we can start with things like “water flows downhill,” “most mountain ranges form along fault-lines,” and “climates will be more temperate along coastlines,” but honestly, those things will only get us so far.
However, the situation isn’t hopeless. My advice is that unless you want to spend hours researching complex information, you should try to use the landscape around you as a guide. For example, much of my work is inspired by British Columbia’s mountainous coastline. I use it as a basic guide for landscape and weather patterns in much of my work, and this lets me be reasonably accurate. I tweak things and add things, of course, but the basic structure is lent to me by the places I can observe. And now that I’m in Ontario for a bit, I plan to incorporate some more complex hill and lake landscapes into my work.
This method can work well even if you need/want landscapes that aren’t found near you. Simply research a specific real-life area that looks roughly like the place you want to create – it’s usually still easier than inventing/researching it all from scratch.
8. Keep It Neat
If you’re anything like me (or any number of artists/creative people I know) you have a tendency to spread out. Ideas come thick and fast in sporadic patterns and unpredictable waves, and so you scribble them down, write a note here, a reminder there, and then misplace every single one of those. I know. It’s hard.
However, I feel like keeping it neat is pretty self explanatory and logical. If you add some semblance of organization to your stuff, you won’t lose anything important, and you’ll have a much easier time looking up information you’ve already saved somewhere. If you think organization is just a waste of time, I urge you to at least try it. Even a little neatness can go a long way.
Every person has their own way of organizing, and that’s cool. Whether you keep neat piles of paper around, write everything down on your computer or iPad, keep everything scribbled on sticky notes, or use a neat desk or filing cabinet, the important part is simply using a system that works for you. After all, you’re doing this for yourself, not for outside appearances.
I hope this has been helpful, and I wish you all the best in your map making endeavors. If you want some free
criticism constructive commentary on your work, feel free to shoot me a link in the comments below. And if you have some opinions for me, feel free to voice those too.