How NOT to Draw a Fantasy World

This post will use my own humble efforts to demonstrate how you shouldn’t draw your world.

I wanted a big world with lots of different countries, cultures and therefore conflict. I drew my first map on Paint.Net because I’m too hardcore for Paint. I just added a series of wiggly lines without any particular plan. I think at this stage you can just have some fun and mess about with it. I ended up with an idea of different countries, and picked which blobs I wanted for my main two.

Draft map 1
Draft map 1

Here are the series of blobs I ended up with. As you can see I am a loss to the cartography world.

Now can you guess which one I made as my main country? Yes the massive one in the middle. It was almost like the whole world revolved around it…

I started to give them names, many of which I changed later, and I redrew my map several times.

Draft map 2
Draft map 2

I noticed with this one that all the countries seemed very close together. It was as if I was trying to fit them on my computer screen…

I realised with the countries so close together, it was a bit too convenient for me. I didn’t have to factor in big journeys. It was all a bit too easy.

Draft map 3
Draft map 3

So I spaced them out. But I still wasn’t happy with it. It just didn’t look right.

By this point I gave up on Paint.Net. I decided I would have more control if I just drew it by hand as my hand has a habit of randomly jerking around on the mouse. This explains the messes above.

So I drew a map that I was going to settle for, because I just need to know where my countries, rivers, cities are. It doesn’t have to be pretty. But then I started looking at other maps in fantasy books. This was something I should have spent more time on before trying to draw one. I noticed that they weren’t very big. Middle Earth is just one massive land space. GRRM’s world is bigger, but he has continents that he doesn’t use. There are two big ones that are actually mentioned in the story. I always wondered what happened on the others.

So it made me think about my world. I had a continent that I wasn’t really planning to do anything with except trade crops for my empire. I had to get them from somewhere so I tried to make everything easier by saying, they all come from over there… That didn’t make any sense though. I want crops and raw materials all over the world, from different climates and countries. I want everyone trading, particularly countries who hate each other. So I got rid of the pointless continent. I haven’t ruled out its return completely, but for now I’m trying to scale it down a bit, focus on the main parts. Two continents and a few islands dotted around.

By this point, I feel it necessary to tell you that I am not an artist.

Current draft
Current draft

I call it a current draft because it is very likely that I draw several more before I’m happy. As you can see, it is far from perfect but at least I have a clear idea where each country is, the cities, main rivers, lakes and mountain ranges. That’s all I need for now.

I also have maps for my two main capital cities, one in Tasmagul and the other is Agreos. I need to know where important buildings are, temples, market places, palaces, bridges, main streets.

You cannot be too detailed. Your characters, my characters will have to walk around this world. It needs to be real and you need to be an expert in your own world. If it doesn’t feel real to you, it won’t to your readers.

Some things to think about:

  • Land masses – they should at least try to look like real countries, no straight edges unless there’s a reason for that
  • Rivers, lakes – your people need water
  • Mountains – how are mountains formed? Do they create natural borders between countries?
  • Climate – affects crops, architecture, clothing, trade
  • Vegetation – what grows where? Who needs to trade with who?

Have you ever drawn your own world? How did it go? What would you have changed?


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