How I Made My First Map

How I Made My First Map

As I mentioned a few weeks ago, writing Dreamers Do Lie – my high fantasy re-imagining of Dante’s Inferno – turned out to be the easiest part of the project. Even though I had to write the story twice.

One of the main reasons for the initial delay in releasing the book – aside from the fact that my husband and I were trying to buy a new house – was that I wanted to put a map inside the book. Adding a map wasn’t a sudden or unexpected desire. One of my favorite things about fantasy books are the detailed maps often tucked just inside the book’s front covers. I like tracing the characters’ journey across the surface of the imaginary world. Sometimes I pause to determine exactly where they were during a particular scene.

When I decided to self-publish, I let go of the idea of putting maps in any of my books. In fact, I let go of a lot of the plans I originally had for my books, including paperback releases. I had no idea how to proceed without a team of trained professionals to help me put these things together. I convinced myself the story was the important thing – and it is – and that nothing else really mattered.

I’ve gained many new skills since then

Fastforward a few years. I had three books published and was still struggling to find my identity and game plan as an independent author. That’s when I started really connecting with other members of the community. I met several authors who had paperback versions of their books. They often released those paperbacks at the same time they released their ebooks. I met authors with merchandise based on their books such as bookmarks, keychains, pins and t-shirts.

As I spoke with these other members of the community, I realized how possible my original plans were. Instantly, I changed my stance about how to move forward with my products. With the help of my new friends, I put out paperback versions of all the books I already had available. I started releasing paperbacks at about the same time or shortly after all my major releases went live.

The closer I got to realizing my dreams, the more I returned to my list of possibilities. Maps were top of that list. I desperately wanted a map for Life is But a Dream – the sequel to Dreamers Do Lie. I went to all the trouble of creating an entirely new world for that book, and its geography plays a huge role in the story. How great would it be for people to be able to track where all the major events were taking place?

Map Maker, Map Maker, make me a map…

I started reading everything I could find online about map creation. Tumblr was a good place for this, as was Pinterest. People presented ample methods from using dice to help create a random outline, to online tools to create realistic coastlines.

Having no faith in my personal artistic ability, I considered hiring a cartographer to do the work for me. I even queried a couple for price quotes. Sadly, at that time, they were out of my price range. I saved my pennies in hopes I’d have enough by the time the book was almost ready, but that backfired. We ended up needing those pennies to buy our new house. I also decided I wanted to put a map in the first book. But I struggled with how I could ever possibly describe this concept to a cartographer.

I decided to make the leap and try making a map on my own. Before I wrote my own skills off as hopeless, I figured I should at least try.

My initial efforts went far better than I anticipated. I managed to make the outline of my cross-section of Hell (my pie piece, as I called it) and even roughed in a few geographical features using the guides I had previously bookmarked. Things were going well, so I decided to fully commit.

The challenges were different than expected

I hit my first major roadblock when I realized I needed to put buildings on the map. Certain circles of Hell are almost completely defined by the buildings that make them up. And there wasn’t really a way to represent those areas without the buildings. Worse, I realized that filling out those sections was going to involve lots of fiddly little details defined by tiny lines.

By then I was too deep in the pool to escape and had already started sharing progress photos of the map online. So I figured I was locked in.

I learned very quickly that buildings are just shapes. But that shapes are also really hard to draw freehand. I erased dozens of squares, rectangles and triangles over and over until I was halfway satisfied with how some of them looked.

But eventually I had a full-fledged map. It looked at least as good as some of the maps printed in some of the books I read growing up. (I checked.) And ultimately, I’m pretty dang proud of how it turned out.

It seemed like the map would never be finished

Of course, as with books, the first draft turned out to be the easiest part. After I drew the map, I had to find a way to get it on my computer so I could clean it up and label it. I didn’t really want to ink the lines because some of them were so small I didn’t think any of my pens could tackle them.

I ended up creating a makeshift light-table using a reading lap and our glass dining room table. From there, I copied the map onto a fresh piece of paper – which allowed me to better center it on the page. I tried to make the pencil lines dark and erase as little as possible so the image would be crisp when I made the digital transfer.

I met with mixed success. Tracing the map turned out easier than I anticipated, but I somehow missed a few lines I eventually had to add back in digitally. (I didn’t realize until I was deep in the cleanup process that they’d been overlooked.) And even with a few digital clean-up tricks provided by another Google search, it took way longer than anticipated to clean up the line art.

I can safely say I learned a dozen or more things I should not do the next time I attempt this kind of project. But when all was said and done, I had crisp, clear, readable map. And I was pretty happy with the results!

What about the final product?

The Hell of Dante’s Inferno famously has nine rings. My design ultimately ended up with only seven because it was enough to suit my purposes. But I still managed to include all five of the hell-ish rivers mentioned in Greek mythology. (More on that another time.)

If I had time to re-do this map, there are things I would definitely do differently. The biggest change I would make would be how I depicted Jagjaw – the city in the second ring. I realized way too late that the way I had done the buildings didn’t really jive with the walls on either end of it. But I would have had to erase some five hours of work to fix it, so I just decided to let things lay.

Here’s the map in all its glory. I think it looks pretty snazzy on my Kindle and I can’t wait to see what the paperback version is going to look like.

If you’re interested in the book that goes along with this map, you can pick it up here!

My next challenge is going to be a continental map of the overworld for Life is But a Dream. I very much hope that a continent with no actual buildings will be easier to tackle than this was. Part of me is sure I’m in for a whole new world of hurt.

But my books are going to have maps. And I should get better at making them as I go. So in the end, I’m over the moon!

2 Replies to “How I Made My First Map”

    1. Thank you so much! :D I have always struggled with drawing people… I feel like I can never properly convey emotions the way I want to. I’ve had a little more luck with getting shapes to cooperate ^^;;

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