The Problems with Last Century Fantasy Cartography

My editor has asked me one question several times, “Do you have a map?” It’s a valid question since a map is a key element to every epic fantasy that really adds depth to a book in subtle ways. A map serves as a guide to both the plot of a book and the reader. The map in LOTR was what made the book incredibly interesting since you could follow the story visually. I’ve seen some well executed maps in books in recent years. Once such is from Russell Kirkpatrick’s books and the map is extremely detailed – but then he’s a cartographer by trade.

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I do have a map. Here’s how my humble process went to create it: one day many years ago I sat down and hand drew my map with a variety of details and notions of stories and histories for my fantasy world. It was highly creative to explore this fantasy world as I drew all the rivers, mountains, forests, cities and countries. I could imagine what people lived where and how the geography shaped their daily lives.

That was long ago and my story has morphed. It was so long ago that the map would now be considered derivative of several early works of fantasy – you know what I mean. There’s just been a lot of fantasy water under the bridge (more on that at a later date). But even worse than the dated map is the age of the paper that was discolored by a water-spot. So not only is my map in need of updating, it also needs to be completely re-done. But don’t worry, just as I’ve updated my epic fantasy to current standards I’m also updating the map.

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As I wind down editing The Bow of Destiny, I’ve turned to all the other details so the map has become a more immediate concern. I face several challenges with an old, damaged map in a digital age. One is getting a new copy without water-spots. The other is transferring the entire map into digital format for an e-book – something for which I never planned. Since it’s unique, my map is like a one-of-a-kind treasure map from any number of pirate or treasure-hunter stories and movies so getting a digital version is even more important.

TypingI’ve taken the challenges one at a time. I purchased tracing paper from an art supply so I could trace the map. Next, I’ll get it copied – hopefully on a larger sheet of paper so I can have place names written on the map in stylized script. The second challenge should be easy – have the map scanned to file which I should then be able to use for the e-book. I also plan to blow-up sections of the map where The Bow of Destiny and supporting stories are set so readers can see it better (maps in e-readers do leave something to be desired due to size so I’m trying to make mine more visible). I can also use sections in free short stories I plan to release later this summer which makes my fantasy cartography more important.

I imagine that at some point I’ll likely do something to improve the map further. Also, when making maps for future books in new fantasy worlds I’d prefer to do so beginning with a digital copy so it’s cleaner from the beginning. But for now, this beginner is taking last century map-making and transferring it into current century technology.

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So that’s a bit of information for readers about creating a fantasy book – especially one in the making as long as mine. I’m sure a lot of readers don’t think about this detail too much since it’s so ubiquitous but it is very important to a fantasy writer like me. It’s all part of the creative process and can never be discounted.

Please share your thoughts and ideas in the comments section.

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P. H. SolomonAbout the Author

P. H. Solomon lives in the greater Birmingham, AL area where he strongly dislikes yard work and sanding the deck rail. However, he performs these duties to maintain a nice home for his loved ones as well as the family’s German Shepherds. In his spare time, P. H. rides herd as a Computer Whisperer on large computers called servers (harmonica not required). Additionally, he enjoys reading, running, most sports and fantasy football. Having a degree in Anthropology, he also has a wide array of more “serious” interests in addition to working regularly to hone his writing. The Bow of Destiny is his first novel-length title with more soon to come.



  1. I kind of had a map before I started writing my current opus and it’s helped a lot in terms of what happens where and in what kind of terrain (series blog is here – Digitising is a pain when you’re working from a stained hard copy but if you’re working in something that uses layers (like Photoshop or Illustrator) then it’s not impossible by any means.

    Personally I like a bit of ‘antiquing’ even if it’s for ‘future’ fantasy so stains aren’t necessarily a bad thing – it adds character to the world view! 😉

    1. Thanks good ideas. I think the original would not have been clear enough for readers to reference though I agree that an antique-style map adds to the book, especially in print. Thanks for visiting and commenting today, Jan.

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