Does My Fantasy Novel Need A Map? (What to know)

If you’re a fantasy author, then you know that creating a believable and well-developed world is essential. And one of the best ways to do that is by creating a map of your world.

You do not need to have a map when you write fantasy. However, a map can help you and your readers visualise the setting and keep track of where they are in the story.

But what should you include on your map? And how do you go about making one? Let’s take a look.

In this article, I will explore:

  • Why do fantasy books have maps?
  • Do authors draw their own maps?
  • What should a fantasy map include?
  • How do I make a map for my fantasy book?

Why Do Fantasy Books Have Maps?

Authors use fantasy maps to immerse the reader in a new and unfamiliar world. As well as setting the tone and grounding the audience, a map also allows the reader to better understand where and how the story takes place.

A map is also a quick and easy way for an author to keep track of the locations in their story. By sketching out a map, they can ensure that their characters are moving around the world in a way that makes sense.

A map acts as a companion to the story and its immersive detail helps the reader to keep track of where everything is happening. It also allows the reader to see how the landscape changes over time as the story progresses.

Do Authors Draw Their Own Maps?

As a general rule, many fantasy authors will make sketches and plans for their world’s geography and locations to help them keep track of their characters. However, many authors prefer to hire professional artists to create their maps for the final publication.

JRR Tolkien drew all the maps and illustrations for The Hobbit, but if you’re not confident in your drawing skills, or you don’t have the time to make a map yourself, there are plenty of options available to hire someone to make a map for you or to use software to help you create a stunning map of your own.

What Should A Fantasy Map Include?

Your fantasy map should contain only that which is essential to tell your story. It is tempting to cram in as much as you can but fight the urge. Keep it simple and use flourishes, label font, and themes to set your world’s tone.

There are a few key things that every good fantasy map should include:

  • Names of settlements, such as ports, castles, and towns
  • Points of interest (such as castles, ruins, forests, etc.)
  • Roads, pathways, and rivers connecting different locations
  • Physical features like mountains, cliffs, lakes, etc.

There are also a few optional elements that can add depth to your map:

  • A framed title
  • A scale marker
  • Compass rose
  • Art (such as a dragon, a mermaid, or a sea serpent)

If you’re including an invented language in your book, you might want to include the translations of all the names on your map. This will help readers understand where they are and what they’re looking at as they’re reading.

Your map needs to add to your reader’s understanding of your story, not confuse them!

How Do I Make A Map For My Fantasy Book?

Making a fantasy map can be done one of three ways: by hand, with professional software, or via a freelancer, but you may still need a sketch of the map you want the professional to make for you. If you’re going the DIY route, all you need is some paper, a pencil, and an eraser. But if you go the software route, there are several great options to choose from.

What is the best fantasy map maker?

There are dozens of free and paid-for map-making software out there. The one that stands out as the best is WonderDraft. With a low one-time purchase, hundreds of assets as standard, and beautiful themes to choose from, you can make a gorgeous and unique map almost effortlessly.

But if you don’t have the budget, or if WonderDraftOpens in a new tab. doesn’t cover your needs, there are plenty of others to choose from, so I’ll take you through some of the best free and paid-for map makers out there:

WonderDraftOpens in a new tab. – $29.99 one-time purchase – Best Choice for the Professional Self-Published Author

WonderDraft is an intuitive map-making tool that allows you to create detailed fantasy maps of worlds, continents, and regions. You can add elements such as mountains, forests, towns, or rivers with this software, and use the editing brush to edit those features even more!

It is easy to add place names, and features, as well as colours to the map, with a range of themes to suit the style of your world.

Campaign CartographerOpens in a new tab. – $44.95 with additional resources extra

Campaign Cartographer is an awesome piece of software that lets you create detailed world and region maps. You can choose from a lot of styles to match whatever aesthetic preferences you have, which makes it really stand out in the crowded field.

WorldSpinnerOpens in a new tab. – $9.95 per year with additional resources extra

WorldSpinner is a program that generates worlds for you to customise. You can change any aspect of your world from land masses and temperature all the way down to individual cities!

It’s an amazing tool because it lets us see what might happen if we let history play out—for example, how populations spread throughout different regions over generations.

This might be overkill for a map for your fantasy book, but for world-building, this could be great fun!

InkarnateOpens in a new tab. – FREE with $5 per month upgrade available

Inkarnate is a great way to create your own map and customise it however you want. You can add rivers, mountains or even text on some stamps if needed!

The free version has enough features for creating awesome worlds, but there are limitations that might make you want to upgrade. But overall this site offers more customisation than most mapping programs out there so give’em a go!

Azgaar’s Fantasy Map GeneratorOpens in a new tab. – FREE

With Azgaar’s Map Generator, you can create a map from scratch or edit pre-made ones with ease. You have the option of choosing between different views including states/countries maps religions temperature zones height difference etc., and even adding rivers for an added flair!

Besides this, there are plenty of tools at hand that make it easy, like changing fonts styles colours emblems layouts – all with no programming knowledge needed.

RollForFantasy Map CreatorOpens in a new tab. – FREE

This map creator tool includes over 1400 different images. You can drag and drop natural landscape pieces like forests, mountains or hills into place to create your world. Although the interface may be a little confusing at first, there’s plenty of documentation on how to use it if you ever get lost.

DonjonOpens in a new tab. – FREE

Donjon has two generators that make creating your own worlds easy. You can choose from different types and everything-land, water or ice (and even colour it)!

These handy tools will help you get started with exploring this new map addition before putting anything else on top like names; just edit what’s already there in order to customise things how YOU want them!

NortantisOpens in a new tab. – FREE 

The free, simple map generator Nortantis generates hand-drawn styles with almost an old-school style. You can edit the terrain and background once it creates your continent or island, then save it as a PNG on your computer.

Watabou Medieval Fantasy City GeneratorOpens in a new tab. – FREE

Watabou’s generator has a different take on map generators. Rather than generating world maps, it generates city maps with buildings and temples, castles and fortifications, farmsteads and roads.

You can customise them to your liking by adding more detail, such as rivers and roads, you can also change the suggested names of your city. However, this generator is best if you have only a rough idea of the map you need, and you’d like the generator to fill in the details.

How do I create a custom map?

Even with the help of specialised software, creating a fantasy map can seem overwhelming. So here is the step-by-step process I go through when world-building a new map.

Step 1: Decide on the scale

Creating an entire detailed world is far too daunting for a beginner. Start small. What is the essential area required in your story? Is your story based in a city? A region? Or do your characters populate different nations?

You might find it easier to have several maps of the essential towns or regions rather than a world map that you feel you HAVE to fill in. Decide early how much of an area your maps need to cover.

Step 2: Focus on the essentials

Don’t worry about all the roads in the nation or all the forests and every river. Start by populating your map with the bare bones. What HAS to be on the map to make your story work? What features do you mention?

Only one town and the capital city? Then for now, just put those into the map, making sure you work out the distance and how you want to represent the scale.

Step 3: Fill in the blanks

Once you have all of your essentials, in a map with the right size and scale for your features, then fill in the area left blank. Don’t fill it randomly. Think about the distance between towns and villages, and the geography of the region.

Is it a cold area? A desert? Swamp? How would this affect the population? Where would they place towns and villages? Is there a big river, with major port towns and harbours? Or a great road, with other smaller roads trailing off it?

Once you have your map laid out, then you can start playing with names, themes, and extra details, such as the compass rose and the key.

Remember: the important thing is to make sure that your map is clear and easy to read. It’s there to help readers visualise your world, not confuse them!

In Summary

Creating a map for your fantasy novel doesn’t have to be difficult. In fact, there are many online tools that can help you get started quickly and easily.

By focusing on the essentials and filling in the blanks, you can create a clear and easy-to-read map that will help your readers visualise your world.

Good luck, and happy publishing!


Niamh Murphy is a bestselling author of YA adventure fiction, proudly publishing independently since 2013.

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