Create a map of your novel’s world

Image by Austin Kleon, Flickr

Quick — Tell me what types of novels come to mind when you think of maps?

Fantasy. Sci-Fi. Lord of the Rings. Dune.

You will usually find maps in fantasy and science fiction novels. They’re detailed, imaginative, accompanied by strange names and languages, and used to help the reader step into a new and exciting world.

You’ll certainly not find one in a contemporary, coming-of-age novel or a romance novel or a mystery novel.

Or will you?

A novel idea

The idea for including a map in my novel sprung from a search for character map examples. While in procrastination-ville, I played with the word “map” and envisioned the Tolkien map from The Hobbit. It soon morphed into the neighborhood and surrounding area that I’m creating for my novel.

I saw the map in the front pages, a detailed sketching of my protagonist’s world. How fun, and different, would that be?

Writing fiction, after all, is the creation of new worlds. No reader has ever been to that world, be it a planet like Arrakis (Dune) or a city like Santa Cristina (my novel).

Yet (I’m playing publisher’s advocate here), what value would a map bring to the reading experience? Would a publisher even consider it? What are other contemporary novelists doing with maps?

With the technology that is available to us, and the popularity of e-books, novels that include a map, and other enhancements, might soon be the norm.

But, putting the dreamy “I’m published” stage aside, perhaps creating a map could be just the thing you need to build your story, kick-start your creative mood, or help keep you on track as you write.

Simple map making tool

In my quest to find a how-to on maps for novels, I came up empty in my initial search. Most pages from a Google search focused on fantasy and science fiction novels.

Finally, after much digging, I found an answer at Graphic Design Beta. The question submitted was “Any ideas on how to make a fictional city map?”


“…you could go to and find a street map you want your map to look like. Then click ‘export’ and download the map as pdf (Map will be vector) which you can open in Illustrator and modify it to match your needs.”

 I plugged in the area I wanted to use, followed the instructions above, and got this:

[You could also do a screen capture (Print-Screen on PC, command-shift-4 on Mac), but you won’t be able to modify it in a graphics program.]

Notice what is included on the map: a creek, neighborhood churches, railroad tracks, a beachfront boulevard, city parks, a crosstown freeway, the sand and ocean. My head is spinning with extra story ideas.

Once you find a map and print it, then grab a pencil: change street names; put some bends in the road; add your landmarks; decide on key action areas — and whatever else that helps bring your novel to life.

Refer to the map as you write so that your locations are consistent throughout your writing. You’ll most likely make changes to it as your story evolves. You may even want to use several maps for the various locations in your novel.

When the map is in a fairly finished condition — either in digital format or a pencil sketch — then keep it handy. I use Scrivener and I’ll upload the map to my quick reference panel. While I’m writing, the map will be available to me at the click of a button, for location and inspiration.

There are as many ways to keep track of story locations as there are writers. A map is just one of my novice ideas that seems simple enough. I’d love to hear your ideas.

Have fun with this. The reader takes his steps into a new world within the pages of a book.

How do you keep track of your novel’s locations? Do you know of any contemporary novels that include maps?


2 thoughts on “Create a map of your novel’s world

  1. Darla, as a writer of fantasy I find a map absolutely essential. Openstreetmap is brilliant for immediate location, but for a large area I use SketchUp which is a free 3D model building program for designers. It takes an afternoon to learn by viewing tutorials on YouTube. I also keep it handy within my Scrivener project. It mesures distance which helps me guess how long it will take to walk from A to B, and shows me what the view would be. Then I tidy it up a bit in Photoshop and use it alongside the book by posting a downloadable copy on my website and a link in the ebook.

    I use the 3D component to do a very unsophisticated model of a room I want to describe so that I remember where all the furniture is and where the people are. eg a tavern.

    I do not want to spam you my website link in a comment, but if you want to share the img of the map there, feel free.


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