Part 1 – Making the Map
BORDERS. Whether you put these on a map or not is up to you. Generally it is advisable to leave them out unless they are particularly noteworthy, thus saving you the extra confusion that all the extra lines and squiggles would give you.
COASTLINES. Make sure they’re clearly marked. A simple trick would be to do a second outline where the coast is, in a fainter tone, to show where you have the sea and where the land is.
CITIES. Dots, circles or some other small symbols should do just fine, together with a name. If the map is on a large scale, then it is best to just insert the capital cities of your nations. The smaller the scale gets, the easier it is to insert other cities, towns and even villages.
DESERTS. There is no reason to mark these out, except by naming them. Of course, the only elements you can insert in a desert are mountains. Make sure there is no water!
FORESTS. While drawing them may be the source of many a woe, forests are a crucial part of any good map. That said, only the large, or famous, forests need to be marked down. Small outcroppings and little woods are not worthy of the mapmaster’s attention!
ISLANDS. Most islands come in groups, like archipelagos, or surrounded by smaller ones, like the British Isles. Of course, this being fantasy, it is possible to give your islands roughly drawn shapes and name them accordingly. (DO NOT, under any circumstances, call an island ‘Star Island’ or ‘Star Isle’)
LAKES. Unless they’re large and important, do not include them. They merely serve to complicate things! Though, if there is something like a Lake District in your world, be sure to mark that.
MARSHES. These can be tricky to mark out properly, as they require a bit of thinking. There is no perfect way to delineate a marsh, especially if it is in a small region. Remember that marshes are only possible in places where there is a lot of water, like in the delta of a river.
MOUNTAINS. I have a fondness for the things, if only because there fill up a noticeable portion of any map, and are a useful border between nations or parts of the world. Remember: mountains are not all the same size – think the Pennines in the UK and the Himalayas. The British mountains are all very old.
NATIONS. Kingdoms, Empires, Republics. They are all political identities, but, like in the Medieval Age, it was quite common for them to have a geographical identity as well. Think of the United Kingdom, for example. It’s full name is the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Island, where Great Britain is but an island that includes most of England, Scotland and Wales.
PLAINS. Like deserts, they have no symbol to mark them, other than an expanse of white on your sheet. The only way to distinguish them would be if you coloured them (plains would be green, while deserts would be a yellow/orange). The fun of these, of course, is filling them in with the other elements.
RIVERS. Do not put in too many. Most rivers are just not important enough to be on maps. It’s ok to leave them out, and it’s ok not to give the lesser ones names. A lot of the time the small ones can be thought up as obstacles or barriers for the characters to face, and may end up being tributaries to bigger ones.
ROADS. (see BORDERS)
SEAS & OCEANS. Very important stuff here. A world without seas is like pasta without sauce - nowhere near as good as it could be. In fact, if you’re trying to a world map, then there should be more water than land. Water is a good thing. For regional maps, these wide places of discovery and sailors can be restricted to small stretches of near-emptiness on the sides.
VOLCANOS. Volcanos are a bit of an oddity. They can be part of a mountain range, but they can also stand alone, like Mount Doom in the Lord of the Rings. Just make sure there are no villages nearby if they are still active.
Drawing the Map
1) On your first draft, use a pencil. You’ll find yourself doing a lot of rubbing out and redrawing.
2) There are many ways of drawing a map, but I’ll divide it into two methods for ease of use. The first is from the outside to the inside. You start off with the coasts and then fill in the blanks. This is particularly good if you haven’t yet got an idea of where everything will be, and it will help stimulate you to build your word from its roots. The second way is the opposite, and is possibly the worse way to do it. This is the route people do if they have already got a firm idea on their world and story.