An Epic Fantasy Journey Needs a Map

“A map is the greatest of all epic poems. Its lines and colors show the realization of great dreams.”

― Gilbert H. Grosvenor

“A map tells you where you’ve been, where you are, and where you’re going— in a sense it’s three tenses in one.”

― Peter Greenaway

One of the first ways I started with developing my epic fantasy novel was with the map. It may sound odd, but I am a visual person and the more I thought about how the Luminance Saga was to unfold the more I kept picturing the world I wanted to create and where everything in that world was. I knew that a huge part of my story would be the many cities and locations the characters explore. I also knew that the characters at the start of the journey are separated and spread out in the world. The former war heroes are estranged and Elias Qudin being the foremost explorer and archaeologist, presented another issue of where could these ancient locations exist. For me the map was essential. A set of wings, that allowed my story to take flight.

Lots of Maps in Epic Fantasy

I have always loved books with a map. The travelogue experience is improved for me if I can follow the path the characters are on. In the Wheel of Time series the map is invaluable especially as the series evolves and the characters seem to swirl around the world. With the map, suddenly everything makes sense in way that exists in a space and time. For my story to be real and for the world to come alive, I needed a map.

What does a Map do?

It sets everything in motion. A map answers many questions and places the characters into a real world that they have to navigate. For my story those questions not only organized the world, it explained why the mountains were called the Warhawk mountains, why Adalon was the greatest city in the world. It showed me what areas were unexplored and where the exiled people had disappeared to. One major question it answered was; If my characters are all heading to Adalon, what route would they take? All these elements require informed thinking as they are all interconnected. In the end, the map gives the world agency and imparts it. For me this resulted in an explosion of ideas and possibilities. Above all, a map connects the reader to the characters. Allowing you to understand the world in one way that is the exact same way a character in the world understands it.

Where to start?

I started with a sketch and labeled it and thought about how it worked and then immediately revised it. It was too small! I was thinking too much about “classic” epic fantasy and the world’s in those stories are not actually that big. The great authors make them seem big, but they are generally the size of a single country or a few countries. Which makes sense, they often take place in an offset re-imagined Middle Ages. Where people don’t exactly travel long distances. For a multitude of reasons. However, my story was taking place in what amounts to the equivalence of the early 1800s. At the start of steam powered locomotives and scientific advancements. The map for The Luminance Saga needed to be a fully imagined planet. As a travelogue story, I’m kind of breaking from the typical idea of an epic fantasy journey, but this also opens up a lot more possibilities.

My first sketch
My 2nd sketch (yes they’re slightly silly, so what? They’re fun and fun is good)

My Process

With the map sketched out I was able to move forward outlining my story in detail. Having never written anything of this length before, the beginning process was exciting and I couldn’t stop writing. I was constantly writing, I would wake up in the middle of the night and write on my phone. I would even write before I had my morning coffee and I don’t do anything before I have my first cup of coffee. Eventually I hit a roadblock. I would not call it “writer’s block” as much as it was a writer’s decision dilemma. Even with my detailed outline, sometimes the decisions I set up would breakdown when I actually wrote the story. When this happened, instead of forcing it and continuing to write, I stopped. In the stopping I went back to the map.

The one thing about writing a fantasy novel is that there’s always more to do outside of the actual writing of the novel. There’s the research, the lore, world building, and there’s inspiration and art. I employ a sketchbook to help. If I’m thinking of something that’s going to take place in the story, whether it’s an object, or a place, a person or a moment, I sketch it. I’m not a talented artist, my skills are very basic, but that doesn’t matter. The point is for my brain to understand and explain itself. It gives my mind the time to stop and understand what it’s imagining.

Mapping Software and Programs help

With my limited artistic abilities, I researched the many map creation applications and software that exist. After a lot of Internet searching and trying out different software I settled on using Wonderdraft. It’s fun and simple and suited my needs. Working in architecture I am used to using a lot of programs for drafting, so I’m not intimidated about learning any program. Still, for anyone looking to do a map design, all of these programs are easy to pick up, regardless of your pre-existing skill. That’s not to say that just anyone can make a professional looking map. I was confident in my own ability, but I am positive that a professional illustrator could do better.

Like any creation, you can design it and re-design it and keep doing that forever essentially. The trick is figuring out when to stop. I have worked on my map for a long time. Putting in a lot more hours than I actually care to admit. Partly because I was trying to get it accurate and also because I was having fun.

Accuracy and Map Making

Mapping a fully imagined planet accurate to reality is complicated. There are wind patterns, ocean currents, tectonic plates, rotation, gravity and gravitational forces. It’s a seemingly endless list of things to consider. Enough to wreck your imagination if you let it. My suggestion for getting around this and what worked for me… is to not think too much about it. I created my map and then adjusted it based on the many complicating factors before finishing it.

the complicated stuff

And finally…

So without further ado here is the map of Territhmina. You will undoubtedly notice that it is only half the world. Don’t worry the other half is out there. My plan is to complete a full map for inclusion in book 2 of the Luminance Saga.

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