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World map
Maya Starling
Posted: Tuesday, April 30, 2013 12:21 PM
Joined: 4/24/2013
Posts: 45

Do you make maps of your worlds? How? Are there any softwares that could help. I'm really not good with judging the distances in relation with days of traveling...

How complex are your worlds?
Herb Mallette
Posted: Tuesday, April 30, 2013 12:53 PM
Joined: 6/28/2011
Posts: 188

I do map things out. The complexity of the map depends on the story and the world. I wrote one novel set in a world that was mostly inhospitable, with only a narrow strip of habitable land and almost no political divisions. The map for that was extremely basic. My main series developed as a setting before I figured out a story. It's pretty complicated, with three major continents thoroughly mapped and several minor ones roughed out. I also worked up a historical map showing what the political divisions looked like a hundred years in the past, before an expansionist empire took over most regions of the main continents.

By developing the world first and naming lots of places very fancifully, I set myself up with a ready source of plot springboards, and I'm able to have characters "name-drop" different towns and geographic features in a way that lends the story a sense of reality and richness.

I don't have any software advice though, as I draw everything out by hand. As for distances, you can get pretty good information by Googling "travel times on horseback" or even going to Google maps, where you can choose to get directions from one city to another, and selecting the "walk" option. (I'm not sure if they factor the need to sleep in.) In favorable conditions, you can walk 2 to 3 miles an hour without difficulty, and someone in good shape could keep that up for 8 to 10 hours if they needed to. Heroic types could perform much better if necessary. Endurance runners participating in 100-mile footraces have completed the distance in less than 16 hours. A source I found said that the record for a horse covering that distance was around 6 hours. But if you're not planning to run yourself or your horse to death, you should probably figure 20-ish miles a day for a person and 30 or 40-ish for a horse.

Maya Starling
Posted: Tuesday, April 30, 2013 1:21 PM
Joined: 4/24/2013
Posts: 45

My world evolved with my story.

When I started writing my book I thought it was going to be something much shorter and less complex. But as I wrote it, it grew, new characters demanded attention and it turned into a full lenght novel.

I'm finishing the sequel now, but I never plotted or planned. And the world grew alongside the story.

For my next project, I will plan, plot and develop the world before hand.

Because, the main problem I now have with those two first stories is consistency with travel. I have to go back, map out the locations, check what distances I put in between and then compare the consistency and fix them.

Thnx for the tips about the distances and time it takes to travel them, but.. when you add the terrain, it changes everything. It's different when the characters travel in the plain and when they travel in the mountain.. whether uphill or downhill.
Elizabeth Moon
Posted: Thursday, May 2, 2013 10:31 PM
Joined: 6/14/2012
Posts: 195

Elizabeth Moon
Posted: Thursday, May 2, 2013 10:49 PM
Joined: 6/14/2012
Posts: 195

Computer glitch, sorry...that was supposed to have content.

Anyway.  C.J. Cherryh says firmly "Never draw the map first."  The story rules; the map comes after...write the story as it happens.  If you have characters half a continent apart and there's no telephone or telegraph  (or half a galaxy apart and there's no instantaneous faster-than-light communicator)  you need to figure out how long it takes for information to get from here to there.  You don't do that by miles or kilometers or light years--you do it by what the story needs. 

In fantasy worlds that aren't modern,  consider the advantages of map uncertainty...I've seen a 17th c. map of the area in which I grew up, and it's...strange.  Though by the 17th c. there were good navigational instruments.  

I have a self-drawn master map of most of Paksworld--the universe in which I'm writing now--(my mother, an engineer, also made maps from survey data and taught me drafting and mapping)--but (to the frustration of readers) it has no scale.  I want them immersed in the story--which tells them how many days it is from Duke's Stronghold to the capital, and how many days it takes (in the weather conditions shown) to get from the capital to the pass over the mountains to the south.   It could take less (if you got that far without a heavy rain or snow) or it could take longer (if it rained every day.)   I know from experience that if I gave them a scale some readers would come out of the story to calculate the distances with a ruler and then argue about whether I'd drawn the map right.  (It's my imaginary world...how I draw it is right.)   In the early books,  my maps were reduced to such a size that they were gone over by someone else, but in the new ones...those are my little pen-strokes shading every mountain. 

Pre-modern travel wasn't about miles per hour...but the practical distance in terms of how much you had to take in supplies before the next place to resupply...for a foot traveler, a rider, a wagon drawn by oxen or one drawn by horses.   "It's a half-days walk to Thornhollow in good weather," he said, with a glance up at the sky.   Or, "Six-horse team and standard twelve market-stones' in the wagon?   No need to stop at Thornhollow--you can make it to Shaleford with two hands daylight left, this time of year.  Nice long downhill run from Peek's Hill all the rest of the way."

Look at old maps.  Read about how people who really traveled used them (or the several not-really-map devices that helped long-distance merchants get from here to there.)    Make little sketches of local stuff when you need to--those sketches later fit into a larger map.  Look at a lot of maps in fiction and see what style you think works with your world.  (Personally, I think computer-drawn maps for non-modern fantasy worlds ruin the feel...they look computer-drawn, and are there computers in the story?  You can hand-draw over a computer-drawn map, if you want to let the computer decide where to put things, but...not for me.)

Maya Starling
Posted: Saturday, May 4, 2013 8:31 PM
Joined: 4/24/2013
Posts: 45

Thank you Elizabeth!

I really appreciate your feedback. I started that way, writing a story and figuring out the map as the world and story evolved. And it definitely helps when I can adapt the distances to what I need. 

And thnx for the tips on how to present the travel distances within the story itself.

Now that the story is finished. I'll try and map it out as I go through edits and write down the notes.

Hope my scribbled map resembles something comprehendable
Posted: Tuesday, May 7, 2013 12:06 PM
Joined: 3/13/2011
Posts: 224

I tend to draw my own maps giving things the shape I want, then I decide the scale I need based on how long it takes characters to get places. At that point, it is a basic google search for the maximum distance a horse can travel in a day (or a person can walk in a day) to make certain my distances stay accurate.

For the most part, though, people will be forgiving in terms of distance so long as you do a little background research on traveling in advance.

This might be relevant (though it doesn't show the map) of how I track my world building information.


Here is one of my maps in progress: https://plus.google.com/115724768230571629148/posts/L62awk2gGmH

Posted: Tuesday, May 7, 2013 7:17 PM
I'd be lost without my story bible.

C M Rosens
Posted: Wednesday, May 8, 2013 10:47 PM
Joined: 5/8/2013
Posts: 25

I have tried and failed with mapping software. I draw all mine by hand, because it's easier for me that way... my world evolved over a 10 year period and it's still evolving now, so it's got to the point where I don't need maps any more because I've drawn the same thing over and over and over... mew. But it's a really complex, diverse planet with about as many countries as Earth, but only three main continents. Not all places are densely populated... and tehre are many different races/species all over the place. I only get really stuck with distances of the newer countries now... being slightly discalculic really doesn't help me figure out the maths of top speeds and distances etc!

Posted: Thursday, May 9, 2013 2:34 PM
Do any of you, like me, use real-world places but overlapped with your own special veneer?

Maya Starling
Posted: Thursday, May 9, 2013 3:04 PM
Joined: 4/24/2013
Posts: 45

I don't overlap, my world is my own, I only used similarities in vegetation for some areas.
Posted: Thursday, May 9, 2013 9:40 PM
Joined: 3/13/2011
Posts: 224

I don't overlap either, though I use sciences to help determine where and how natural landmarks fall into place, as well as continental splits.

Most of this stuff the reader will never learn about, but The Eye of God has some hints on the continental drifting and ties to Storm without End -- which I think is a fun way to include real sciences and real geology with my fantasy creations.

Now, granted, I may have cheated a bit and used magic and other nefarious methods to split the continents faster, but the science is still there backing it.

Sometimes, though, I just decide to cut out great chunks of land for fun. That's how I created the Rift but dealing with the global consequences of a cataclysm of that size was fun!!
thomas keesman
Posted: Sunday, May 12, 2013 2:36 AM

I am currently working on number of steampunk novels and shorts set on earth.  Within in my construct the physical earth is as we know it, so has familiar land and water areas.  I work hard to factor in the actual climate/weather/moon cycles/significant natural events for the timeframe of each story.  Having said that …

I have to account for political and technological differences with the real world.  Among other things, I have an excel sheet that provides the distance between major global centres, and the time it would take an airship [at intervals from 45-105 mph] to travel between them.  At other times, having determined how fast a spring-drive carriage travels, I have driven down backroads at 25 and 30 mph just to get a sense of wind, sound and visible details.  Crazy? Obsessive? Maybe, but I need to know this.  I hope it helps establish plausibility for readers.

For my own sanity, I need to be comfortable with the history and inter-relationships of a lot of this BEFORE I move forward.  Sometimes that means halting the wip to sleuth out details that may never explicitly appear in a story – but as the particular storyteller [or, as my wife will say, “peculiar storyteller”] I am.

 Specific to maps – yes, I have a number that are not part of any storyline, but help me maintain consistency in the telling.  I am sure other folks do it differently.  And that is what I love about writing and reading – it takes all kinds.

Posted: Friday, June 7, 2013 10:29 AM
Joined: 5/27/2013
Posts: 108

Crazy how I missed this, I hope I can jump in somewhere?

I make my own maps, and worried about some of the same things you did, travel and the like. But I have read some good books where the author's map had me saying..."Wait, no way is that two weeks." Let's be truely honest, IF we are lucky enough to get hard core followers, then maybe we will get called on the carpet for our maps. (But by then, we will be able to use our storytelling skills and an autograph to sweep it under the rug)

Truth is, as long as the distance isn't grossly disperportionate, then bad weather, seasons, bandits, sightseeing...Any of these can pick up the slack.

I guess if the story was already written, it may present a problem. But you can go on a current map, of say the USA, see the scale and how far the cities "look" from each other and take off from there.

Being the disorganized individual that I am, I drew the map first, knowing some key spots in the story, then I left alot blank. As I am cruising along in my writing, if a name or area comes up, I lean over and put it on the map (I keep it hanging on the wall next to me). But having the overall area is helpful to avoid some of those "grossly distorted" travel times.
Margaret Melchior
Posted: Wednesday, January 8, 2014 7:56 AM
Joined: 1/7/2014
Posts: 8

I work with maps as well. Started out with a small one several years ago, by now it spans three continents. And I also fail miserably at using software for maps, so I just don't try, I draw them by hand and don't really scale them. I can't do without my maps because it has happened on several occasions that I mixed up location names in writing and if I don't have my maps at hand, I'll probably have no continuity at all.


I know from experience that I - moderately trained person with a backpack - can walk about 25-30km a day, little more on comfortable terrain, and far less if the weather or terrain is bad, so I use that to measure how long my characters take to travel certain distances.


I work with a lot of geographers in my office, one of which is a total map freak and when I am completely done with my novel, I will definitely ask him for his professional feedback on my maps - maybe even get him to draw them for me properly

J.M. Berenswick
Posted: Wednesday, January 29, 2014 12:30 PM
I once made a very basic map of a small area with Google Drive software. It was fun, but I'm not sure if it would work for anything large-scale. Right now I've got a map for one fantasy project gestating in my head, but I can't afford any fancy software or draw to save my life.
Elizabeth Moon
Posted: Tuesday, June 17, 2014 12:53 AM
Joined: 6/14/2012
Posts: 195

Mari, I have used one real-world place on the "edge" of the action in most of the books (but central to one of them.)  My husband and I spent a week hiking across Zion Canyon National Park--well, from the west end, the Kolob Canyon section, and then down into Zion Canyon itself back in the '70s  (OK, 1970s, not 1870s--we aren't THAT old!)  Parts of it fascinated me, and seemed perfect for a fantasy world setting someday.  It was many years before I used it, though, and I used my own sketches and photos, rather than the topo maps, when I came back to it for the story.   I had studied geology in college, so the rock itself was interesting, as were the plants and animals (we saw mountain lion tracks; we did not see--but people we met had seen--the mountain lion.)   Only part of the route we traveled showed up in the book--and some of what's in the book I had inferred from the topo maps--we never actually got to "this place" and "that place."  But some details were taken precisely as they were: the little grove of stunted pines, the valley choked with sand and bordered by sheer cliffs, etc.


Aside from that, all my world-building is bits from here and bits from there--things I've seen and walked over, or seen in pictures, enlarged or reduced as the story requires. 

Elizabeth Moon
Posted: Sunday, June 22, 2014 2:19 AM
Joined: 6/14/2012
Posts: 195

For people working in older pre-machine days, the Orbis project (Stanford University) maps of travel times in ancient Rome are fantastic.  (http://orbis.stanford.edu)   You could readily adapt them for use with your own fantasy maps (this project did not exist when I set up my fantasy universe.) It includes foot travel, horse travel, "fastest," "cheapest," etc.  and gives some idea of the way goods (not just people) were moved around.


It's ideal to use average, not maximum, distances traveled in a day, as this will be more believable to those who have done unmechanized travel. 


Another source to keep you on the right side of reality (if that's what you want) is Sherman's Civil War memoirs...he wrote about the distances that Army infantry could march in a day over different terrain--you can get the topographic maps (and compare them to your invented world) if you need to move 500 to 50,000 troops from A to B.   


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