NaNoWriMo 2019 – Back to Prep Work? Map Making

Today I want to talk about designing maps – my way. Maps are a very useful reference tool not only in the real world, but in your story.

The important thing is, if you’re going to be moving around in your story, it helps to have you something to reference. There are plenty of tools online that can develop maps of worlds, countries, and right down to cities, also interior decorating tools can help you design a floor plan for a building if you want to go to really low level detail. Good news, if it’s in the real world, existing maps have you covered, but you can always add a feature or two.

So that’s what this post is about, my method – enjoy.

The problem

So, as you know I won NaNoWriMo already – in fact I’ve soared all the way up to 130k so far (go me, I’ll try to reign in the smugness). Then I did the 20k challenge starting a new children’s novel, which I did (come on reign it in JL).

So I did a pretty reasonable job on my first attempt at first draft of a children’s novel, especially considering I had no planning or plotting whatsoever. I had an idea where I wanted it to go, and the story adapted from there as I wrote it.

Things went so well I didn’t find an end point and continued writing. So when I come to the second draft, I’m going to have to do something about ending the first novel, and starting the second novel. That’s fine though, there are many worse problems to have.

However, moving on to a second novel did present some problems. My characters were both going to be revisiting places they had already been, and going to new ones. There’s no plotting to fall back, I’m just writing. It would be easy to have things happen in the wrong place.

Solution, rough maps

So in lieu of sitting down and plotting this story carefully, I decided to draw up some quick and dirty maps – ala:

This is a map of one realm in the demon world

This possibly doesn’t make much sense – but dots are towns, the diaganol line is a portal, the octagon in the middle is a citadel, and the little square thing is meant to represent a dock.

Importantly a map should be something the audience of said map can ready easily. In this came, I’m my own audience, so how badly drawn it is, or how simplistic it is, I know the story.

There’s a little bit more going on with the next realm in the demon world, because both a chunk of my first and second novels take place there, with overlapping plots:

Map of second realm in my demon world, also I did get East and West confused, for shame

Here things are more chaotic, and my lack of art skills does hurt. However, we have another dock, and a single line leading away, that splits. The line going north are two the supporting characters from my second novel, who briefly travelled with the MC in the first novel.

They are heading somewhere, but a giant stops them, so they flee back, and make it to a valley in the second novel. Meanwhile my main character in the first novel goes to a tower atop a mountain (the volcano looking thing to the south) – now not represented here this is where the MC leaves in the first novel. However he comes back to this spot in the 2nd, then continues on to the valley and meets up the characters fleeing the giant. They then go east across some mountains, have an encounter with something, then escape through a portal.

So even though it’s bad, really bad – I know what’s going on and where (ignoring the fact of put an E to the West in the map).

That’s great, but what about somewhere new you’ll be spending time?

So those scribbled notes make sense because the story of them was mostly written, or coming up. The next part of my story goes back to the human realm of the story universe.

I’ve only seen two places in this universe, a village and a town. So now I’ve a whole world to design, (I’ve gone with continent, give myself room to grow for future books maybe).

I started off rough – at first I drew a diamond shape, I then started zones inside the diamond, and then broke them out. It helps me to start with a basic shape, then break it.

Then I added details, a wintery north, a desert like south, with a temperate zone in between, that temperate region is then split in to a forested West, and hilly east.

Then rivers, lakes, and finally markers for wear my existing or referenced places are. It didn’t look great, so I added colour:

My first draft of the human world

Now so far in my story, only the places in the East have feature, and big city kingdom was referenced. I need more detail for a world to write in, destinations for my characters to travel through.

So, this map being the most important to me, I took the photo, and used to redevlop, adding more details, and more locations:

Second draft of my human world, now with much more detail – and a funky background, just because

Its still very rough, but I know have details to incorporate into the story. When my characters return to the human world, they’re going to arrive at the castle to the West in the temperate zone, and eventually they’ll want to make it to the castle just to the East in the wintery North.

We have roads, we’ve got silly depictions of trees (temperate zone has round trees, near to the wintery north you have triangle trees.

It’s simplistic, but effective. I also now have two ways the story could go to get to its destination. North to a small village, then through the two types of woodland, and going East a long way through the wintery North, or we could go East to the centre of the continent, and travel North, visit the largest city in this world, and then after continue North and have a shorter trip through the wintery North.

If I wanted, I can force detours, have them go East from the big city to where there’s a village with some kind of tower. The world is open to story telling.


This was just my way to go about making some choices, and giving my story world a bit more depth as I come into a pretty unknown section. It was in lieu of plotting, I can still pants it, I just won’t end up running over my own tail, (or tale).

Just remember this was my way – online generators can make it easier, if you’re writing in our world, existing maps can be incredibly useful (from current to historic). If you want a futuristic city, I recommend taking inspiration from the Middle East, Dubai, Qatar and several others really do look like some sci-fi inspired dream of the future. If you’re writing in the past, there are great maps for medieval cities like York, London, and around the world, and of the world at various points in history

I Did All This in Real Time

So, this is a companion post to my Vlog, where I did all these maps (except the digital one where I went off, and came back later with it), to show my process.

It’s 18 minutes nearly – but someone may find it useful – and/or entertaining:

Author: jllegend

Aye, there's the rub. Difficult to sum up succinctly. Crazy, most definitely. Funny, hopefully. Lovely, certainly. Interesting, essentially.

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