Mount Gribbleblat on the Plains of Oxburp
Mapping, mapping, mapping!
It’s one of those things — like it or not, you need to have some basic idea of what your world looks like when writing fantasy (or Sci-fi if you are planning an extended stay on a particular planet).
Not to mention that us fantasy geeks expect some maps in your novel, and much wailing and gnashing of teeth will occur if you rip us off in that department.
As I have said in previous posts, I am mapping my fantasy world on the computer using the free Photoshop-like program Gimp.
The longer you spend mapping, the less time you are using to write the story. And unless you are a graphic design powerhouse, you aren’t likely to make a map worthy of printing in any case.
If you publish on dead tree, your publisher won’t be impressed by your scribbles.
If you go the independent publishing route, you may shoot yourself in the foot by putting a kindergarten level Mickey Mouse map in your book.
The point? You will need to hire, or have someone hired for you, to make the final map for your project anyway.
However, if you have some skill with Gimp or Photoshop, take a gander at these:
I have flicked pixels in Gimp for years now, starting waaaaaaay back when Winamp wasn’t a bloated beast and Internet speed was measured in bytes per second.
The program is not foreign to me, and the concepts behind graphic design, like layers, transparencies, masks, and filters are second nature at this point.
If your skill level with Photoshop and Gimp is like mine — good enough — then feel free to check out these great links to add a little flair to your map (remember, simple is the key here. Just a little flair is all you need).
First up: Brushes!
These are some amazing brushes by StarRaven over at DeviantArt.
Not bad, eh?
Take those brush files and throw them in your brushes directory (Gimp for windows, it’s under “c:users<your user name>.gimp-2.8brushes”) and use them to make nice forests and mountain ranges very quickly.
And that’s the point — they look great and let you move along at a rapid pace. Don’t get bogged down with perfection. Just add a new layer, call it mountains, and use the mountain brushes to make some ranges. Same for forests and cities.
A little more advanced: Tutorial to create nice landmasses with Gimp.
This is a Gimp specific tutorial, but if you know your way around Photoshop you will have no difficulty following along.
There is a website known as the Cartographers’ Guild.
It’s filled with madness.
The entire site is devoted to map making, mostly for fantasy and RPG use. You will find some of the most stunning examples of fantasy maps there, but also a rabbit hole full of maps and hints and tips.
Don’t get lost! You most likely aren’t as talented as those folks! It takes these people weeks to hand craft those maps. Keep your eye on the ball.
You can, however, find very useful tutorials that don’t require a high level of artistic skill or time to follow.
It is a simple tutorial that, if you follow it closely, will get you a nice custom group of landmasses, complete with shallow water coastlines and bumpy looking mountains.
At very least you will learn some crazy tricks you can use later.
It would take maybe 30 minutes to get a nice, realistic map using this method, so if you are looking for something more photo-realistic and complex than slapping some lines down in MS Paint, this may float your boat.
Always keep it simple.
But feel free to have some fun at least.
You may find that simple lines on a white background is all you need, or you may find some mountain and forest brushes give the map a little life that helps inspire your writing.
Go with whatever way works for you!