Wednesday, January 28, 2015

The Evolution of a Fantasy Map

Jill Williamson is a chocolate loving, daydreaming, creator of kingdoms. She writes weird books for teens in lots of weird genres like, fantasy (Blood of Kings trilogy), science fiction (Replication), and dystopian (The Safe Lands trilogy). Find Jill on FacebookTwitterPinterest, or on her author website.

You all know my book is due soon. I'm on my final week. My editor emailed for cover ideas, so I had to set aside some last-minute editing time to gather all my ideas into one file to email him. That meant I needed to finish my map and the flags for each realm if I wanted the cover designer to have the opportunity to use any of it on the cover.

It was a lot of work. Art doesn't come easily to me, but I've learned how to cheat in Photoshop. Now, I had most of my map done. I'd been working on it on-and-off all last year. I thought it might be interesting to show you all the evolution of this map.

King's Folly is loosely connected to my Blood of Kings trilogy, but it takes place 500 years before Achan was born. So when I first thought about my map, I wanted it to look ancient. I loved this ancient map of earth and started with it as my inspiration. To explain what you're looking at, Africa is red, Europe is the yellow on the top, Asia is green, and Antarctica is the yellow on the bottom. Isn't that fun?



Inspired by that ancient map, I drew this on tracing paper with a pencil. Since the hand is a sacred symbol in my land, I originally thought about making my continent sort of hand-shaped. That never really happened, though.




Once I was happy with the shape of my world, I re-traced it with a fine-point black Sharpie. I liked how that original ancient map had each continent in a different color. I started to add yellow here, but didn't like how it was looking. So I scanned it like this and opened it in Photoshop.




This next image is my cleaned up version of the previous image. I added colors here, though I never printed a color version. I took this and added my cities and other things I felt were missing.





Then I added those things in Photoshop.




I was liking this so far, but I decided to get rid of the colors shading in each realm since I knew my map would be printed in black and white.

Also, I felt like my canyons looked like massive lakes. So on this next version, I added a key to show some important worldbuilding elements. The dots indicate where canyons were. Since there is no fresh surface water in my world, I added dotted lines to indicate underground rivers. I also added The Gray, which are foggy areas where beasties live. And I added more cities too. I also started thinking about the flag for each realm, what might be on it, and what their colors might be.




That's when it hit me that my map was upside down. This continent is in the southern hemisphere, so I can't have a polar desert up by the equator! So I flipped the whole thing in Photoshop to see what it looked like with the polar desert down by the south pole, where it should have been from the start. I had to move all my text, one layer at a time. Whee!




As I was writing the book, the more I thought about the actual distance these people were traveling, I decided to make some more changes. Reluctant ones, since I'd already put in SO MUCH TIME on this map. First, I switched my distance from 100 leagues to 50. Then I decided to change the shape. I stretched the thing out in Photoshop, and copied and pasted things until I liked what I saw.




The other thing that had been bothering me from the start was that you couldn't tell that pretty much this entire continent has a raised elevation. It is supposed to be surrounded by cliffs! So I decided I needed a new outline (again reluctantly). I drew a new outline on tracing paper and added cliff marks. I purposely left them all out of proportion, figuring that the map was supposed to be ancient, so the odd proportions might work just fine.




I scanned in my new outline, cleaned it up, pasted it into my Photoshop map file, and hid the old outline layer. I had to move all my text and dots and mountains and rivers again. But once I got them all in the right place, I liked it. I decided it needed an old-timey border, so I found a vintage one, then re-drew it myself.




BUT---yes, there was yet another change coming. I wanted to put the flags for each realm on the map. I made these in Photoshop as well. But they looked way too busy over the coolio vintage border, so I hid that layer and kept a simple oval line. I brought in my flags, created a new key, and shifted everything about until I was happy.

And then was I ever happy to be done!




This is pretty much the process I go through with every map. It takes months for me to fiddle with it, to decide what I like and don't like. And as I write the story, things change and I make adjustments. I realize that this process is not for everyone, but I really enjoy it and thought you might find it interesting.

I also want to point out that part of this is likely why many fantasy novels don't have maps in them. It's terribly time consuming. For a publishing house to pay an artist to do this would be very expensive. It would likely cost as much or more than the full cover design. So maybe I should give more grace to those books without maps, huh?

Any questions? If you create maps, how is your process similar or different from mine?

30 comments:

  1. MAPS! I love maps. I love maps so much, sometimes I make them just for fun. There's a whole folder of rough maps sitting about somewhere in my house.

    I've been drawing maps since I was eight, even though the first ones were rip-offs of Narnia (acceptable since I used to pretend I was Peter and used to pretend-slay the White Witch). Funny how that got incorporated into my fantasy writing. The thing is, my world is constantly changing during my first draft, so I'm only going to draw it once I've finished the book, or maybe sometime in the middle. All I know right now is that there are two continents, or countries, the Elvish Country, the elves descended from the Norse god and Imperia, the realm of the humans descended from the Norse god Tyr. I have a whole history attributed to that.

    I don't use Photoshop, but I plan to use it next time. I've never used it before...Does anyone know where I can get it?

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    1. Photoshop is super expensive, like $600. I think there is a student version for half that. It's a program for graphic designers. I've had my version for, like, ten years. I don't think it's going to survive another computer, so when this one goes, I'm going to need to buy it, I guess... :-/

      I did purchase Photoshop elements for my son for Christmas. It's a lesser version of Photoshop. I'm thinking it might have all the tools I need, since I'm not a graphic artist who uses the program professionally. But he hasn't played with it enough yet to know for sure.

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    2. I see...Thanks, Mrs. Williamson!

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  2. Maps are so much fun to make. I usually just draw them out by hand; I don't have any drawing software. Your process is so detailed, Mrs. Williamson! :)

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    1. Yeah, I'm crazy... LOL! But my hand versions stink, so I need Photoshop to help me make them look good. Otherwise, they'd be kind of, well, not so good. ;-)

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  3. I've made two very simple maps for my stories- they mostly just exist so I know where countries and cities are in relation to each other, to be honest. I used MS Paint for both of them, mostly because Photoshop (which is one of my favorite computer applications in the world, BTW, second only to MS Word and my internet browsers) doesn't have a line tool. Or if it does, I don't know where it is. So, yeah.

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    1. It does have a line too, Sarah, but I don't know how to use it well. I don't understand vector stuff, and I think the line tool deals with vectors. So I use it when I need a straight line, otherwise I draw with the paintbrush or use the stroke to path thing.

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  4. WOW! Your maps are AWESOME!!! Lol! Maps are fun to make, but I usually draw them out by hand until I like what I see. My hardest map had to be the one in the project I did with someone, because we both had to agree on everything.

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    1. That would be a challenge to agree on everything. My problem is that I think I'm close to having it done, but I'm really not. I should probably wait next time to do my Photoshop version until I'm closer to having finished my first draft of the book. That would save me some time.

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  5. *Gasp* Jill, this is incredible! I'm amazed by the amount of thought that goes into it. Fascinating.

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    1. Too much time! But sometimes I just really need a break from the story, so this is fun because I feel like I'm still working.

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  6. Oh wow, your map is awesome! I absolutely adore making maps. Never done one on the computer though, I just do it by hand. (although I do have a full colour computer-made map of one of my various countries that someone ever so kindly made for me :D)

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    1. What an awesome gift! Map-makers, perhaps if you're stumped on what to give your writer friend next Christmas or birthday, give the gift of a map! :-)

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  7. Everytime I look at your maps I can't believe you put so much work into them! My maps drive me insane, when I bother doing them. The initial shape is the part that drives me up the wall. After that I'm more or less okay.

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    1. Yeah, that's hard for me too. So I try not to think too much about it. The important part is what's on it, I think.

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  8. That map is AWESOME, Mrs. Williamson O_o

    I made (hand-drawn) a map for one of my fantasy stories a while ago.

    I want to make more. There's about a million story ideas (fantasy and sci-fi, of course) floating around in my head right now. When (if?) I actually end up writing any of them, I absolutely can't wait to make maps :D

    I probably should remake that one I drew...

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    1. Yeah, it's fun to make maps for all those ideas. I have rough drafts of maps for several stories I've started. It always helps me when I pull out those folders to start working on them again. If I have a map, it's like, "Yes!" Ha ha.

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  9. *falls over from the sheer intricacy and perfectness of the map* I've never drawn a map because they really confuse me, but I'm currently plotting an epic fantasy and I'll probably draw a rough map just for brainstorming purposes. It's amazing how you made a map so professional looking, and it looks like it takes so. Much. Work.

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  10. That is so incredibly perfect! I have never made a map for a book but in Social Studies my teacher is making us do maps and they are extremely hard to do. I am amazed at how nice and clean yours looks!

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  11. Wow. The ease at which worldbuilding and kingdom creating comes to you amazes me. I just moved my Other Worlds project to our world just so I wouldn't have to world build.

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  12. I've always wanted to be able to make maps that don't look like pencil sketches, this was very interesting. Thatnks for the post!

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  13. Heh. I don't draw maps. But I think I'm going to need to.... Just knowing vaguely where things are isn't going to cut it. I don't think.

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  14. This is so timely. I've been spending all day thinking about my fantasy world and its map, and then this evening I checked the blog and found this article! Thank you!
    -Sarah

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  15. Amazing!!! I've never done a map before; I was too lazy to for the first draft of my novel. But it's almost good I didn't, because for the rewrite of it I had a mental breakthrough where instead of having the island south and the mainland north, I'm putting the island to the east and the mainland to the west, so if I had dredged up the effort to make one it would have been somewhat wasted. (At least I would've gotten better at drawing maps...) It doesn't affect the plot much, yet somehow the whole thing feels fresh and right. Weird.

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  16. Looks really cool. I drew a sort of basic map for my slightly-fantasy novel way back when it was a baby idea, and used it to keep track of places named, but it wouldn't be going in any published novel ;) Just for fun and keeping track, thank you. :P

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  17. What a cool map! I have to do one for my own series but I haven't yet. I love yours! God bless, Anne Marie :)

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  18. I make maps for my country because it helps me decide how the landscape plays into the interactions between my characters. But I start with real countries that I like the basic shape of, smoosh, stretch, flip, and cut them to my own country and then add in all of my names and features.

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  19. what a nice process to make map! shows the hard process to reach a nice and original world :)

    My first maps I make like you, using pencil and then painted and usually only made a part of a world.
    But then I started using paint! (yes, you can make fun of). After advanced on the Gimp and finally to Photoshop. Wow! To reach the final map I use for my series I needed at least another 10 maps I made over 5 years! And don't including the hours and headaches :P

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  20. Wow, That is so much more complicated than I expected! I have a hand drawn map, but of course it's just for my reference right now. I have absolutely no skill in photoshop or pretty much any computer program. But I do have a sister who is amazing at it. Which makes me wonder...
    Anyway, thanks for sharing this with us! Can't wait for this book!

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  21. Wow! Thank you for the tutorial, this is amazing!

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