Most people who write fantasy have a map in mind, some even try to draw their map. I think this is an excellent idea. It gives you as a writer an actual image to look at while writing your novel. It gives you a great sense of space, lets you know if walking from point a to point be is even possible, and lets you get to know your world even better than you knew it before. That being said, some don’t know how to make a map, even if they really want to. So I present you the basics, Cartography 101.
Typically you want to make your world as interesting and diverse as our world. This means giving a varied landscape and mountains are a great way to do that. Mountains arise in places where two tectonic plates meet. To create a mountain, simple make jagged edges around a triangle. Add shading from the west to make the mountains appear more 3D. Don’t forget many mountains are flanked by rolling foothills, which appear as small bumps on a map.
Woods and forest never really have a definite reason for standing where they are like mountains. Where you put forests is completely up to your discretion, but unless your inhabitants use something other than wood to build, they forest around major cities will probably be scarce. To create a forest, make a stand of trees, it doesn’t have to be particular skillful, just a trunk shaped bottom with a cotton ball on top. Shading for trees goes underneath the boughs and out to one side, the side you chose the sun is coming from.
Edges of a landmass are probably the number one thing I see messed up on homemade maps. They are typically too smooth for a real coastline. Erosion will have taken place over time, creating indentions and alcoves all along the shoreline, giving your MC tons of places to hide. Jagged shorelines are very easy to create. At random intervals, move more inward or outward with a your writing utensil, it’ll create a move unique and realistic coastline. Edges are harder to shade, but add shading from the waterline up to the line you made for the country. This give the appearance of more depth.
So that’s about it for Cartography 101, to go deeper you can create vales, glaciers, hidden valleys, and vast plains. I hope this helped a little in your map making adventures! I’m curious, do any of you make maps? And if you do, what has your experience been while creating it?