I read a lot of genres. When I say a lot, I mean I’m pretty fluent in most of the genres, and I can even tell you the difference, in detail, between paranormal fantasy, paranormal romance, urban fantasy, dark urban fantasy, and Twilight.
Yes, there are differences. I promise.
Through out all of these many genres (that I occasionally have flings with), very few of them use maps. Fantasy (epic or sword and sorcery, usually) use them very heavily, and occasionally you’ll find a wild west or historic book with a map or two.
From a Reader’s Standpoint
I want to make a confession: as a reader, I love maps.
Not only is it fun when they are well done, but I love knowing what a world looks like. I love flipping back and forth when a new area gets introduced and finding it on the map. (Side note: unless it’s Song of Ice and Fire, cause, man, trying to find all the various locations on a map that has been shrunk to 10% original size? Not cool.) I know plenty of other readers who love maps as well.
Having a map is like having a blueprint to a world. It means that I don’t need to know all the locations in downtown Miami, or that I need to be a cartographer to follow the story’s scene changes. I get far more at home in a world that I can see.
(Additionally, same goes for runes or languages for the world – I eat that stuff up like candy.)
From a Writer’s Standpoint
I know that maps make plotting easier. You can draw on your map to keep track of key points of the journey; blow it up to poster size, use thumbtacks and post-it-notes to keep notes, and use string to tie them all together; or just monitor travel time, travel options, etc. With a map, you can realize if your characters are going to need to travel over water or mountains. With a map, you can verify exactly how many miles it is between modern day Chicago and modern day New York. With a map, you know.
With the fluidity of Google maps and with all of the cheap graphics programs out there, all writers should feel compelled to use maps in their genre writing. If a character is from some fake town in Alabama, why don’t you add it to a screen shot from Google maps? Or if you have a fantasy setting, draw up a map and insert it behind your title page. We don’t need cartographer-level of quality. Something is so much better than nothing.
This is especially fun for self-published books; you don’t have an editor to squash the idea, so why not let your reader know exactly where things will take place?
Just Do It!
Do you want to draw your own maps? Here are some great links to sites with more information:
1) Peter’s (excellent) Guide to Map Creation I highly recommend this site. This was the first site I was ever introduced to for the whole “fantasy map creation” idea.
2) World Builder Projects Table of Contents A solid site with a lot of information. Try to not get overloaded!
3) Fantasy Mapmaking 101 Same, but with a focus on mapmaking instead.
4) Wikihow article on making a fantasy world This is a little bit more towards the world itself, but things like clashing cultures, landmarks, etc. always take their toll on the land.
Alright folks – how do you feel about maps? Do you hold a secret place in your heart for them, or are you irritated to open the book and find a well drawn map?