Making Maps: Country Details

A week and a half ago I talked about how to create a world map. In that post, you followed along as I created the map for my fictional world Obroth (featured in my 2014 NaNo novel). I even talked a little about how it compares to Earth. But for most people, a world map isn’t a whole lot of use when writing. It’s too large to show the details that are going to be important to a novel’s characters, and contains more information than is needed (specially, countries and areas that won’t ever be mentioned in the story). So, with that in mind, I’m going to show how you can create a country map.

Word of warning, the map I’m creating is for an archipelago (series of islands). At the end I’ll include a couple other maps to show some alternative outcomes, but they’re all made roughly the same way.

Now, if you were making a country (or island, or what-have-you) map completely from scratch you would start it the same way I started the world map. Pick a specific landmark and then draw rough shapes to outline other landmarks, borders, etc. in relation to the landmark. Then you work on making it more and more detailed.

But if you’re working on making a map that has a basis in one already made at a different scale (as is the case this time), you already have the basic description of how your country outline is going to look. If you have access to an image manipulation program and a scanner, you can scan your original map and zoom in (or out) as needed to fit the area to the size needed for your new map.

Honestly, it feels a little like cheating, but if you have access to this method it saves you time, effort, and a potential headache.

In the below image you can see that I took the small corner of my world map and blew it up over top of a scan of a blank piece of the graph paper I use. With this new scale, each individual square is going to be 200 km across. You can see that I included what the original scale was (1,000 km). While I might have been able to get it a little larger, I like having my squares be divisible without decimals (so five new squares equals one original square; rather than 5.2 squares or some other random partial number). For me, this makes things easier. For you, you might want that little bit of extra “zoom”, and so having an exact ratio might not be that important to you. Personal choice, and I’m not going to say one way is better than another.

Chesnia et Eswald Blown Up

So from here I can transfer the country outlines to a new sheet of paper. If you’re extra lazy you can print the image off (just try to keep it from scaling too much) and trace it. I personally don’t trust my printer to not scale the image (and therefore mess up my 5:1 ratio), so I’m doing it old school… counting squares and ‘tracing’ it that way. This is going to result in some discrepancies, but that’s okay.

Country Map 1

So you can see that I’ve got the rough outlines, and it lines up decently well with the blown-up view. Something to remember is that when you’re zoomed out like with a world map that you lose some details, and some things can’t be fully represented. (And then there’s the distortion effect of turning a 3D object into a 2D representation)

Basically, it’s okay if it isn’t a perfect copy. In fact, I’m going to add in some extra islands (tiny ones) as I firm up the outlines. In addition, I’m going to start putting in extra details, like cities and, as these are islands, reefs and other such things. Once more, I make a note of distances and travel times. This helps me plan out where the cities are going to be.

Country Map 2

So a quick explanation of some of the markings on the above image. I marked (roughly) where mountain regions are supposed to be, based on the world map I had drawn previously. I added in cities (circles; star means the capitol), towns (‘x’s), roads, reefs, and place names. Generally, I only name the cities on a country map. If you want you could number the towns/villages and make a list, but unless it’s important to know the name of a particular town/village I don’t bother.

Generally, I don’t name territories, districts, or other smaller areas within a country. For this map, I named all the islands. The smaller islands I added (that are not seen on the world map) were not given names. Instead, I named the reef systems (which includes many of the extra islands) or gave sets of them a name (e.g., the Chain, the Guard). Some I didn’t bother naming at all (because they’re off on the left by islands that are not claimed by either Eswald or Chesnia).

I know it’s a little hard to see, but I marked that the kidney bean shaped island (Moon Island) is neutral territory, while the Isles of Blatta, Kaliki, and Terini (the three on the left) are unclaimed. The dotted line through Drunis Island marks that this island is technically shared between the two countries.

My next step is to start inking. This is a personal preference, and you might want to hold off on inking until you’ve put in more detail. For me, I add in the mountains, rivers, forests, etc. at the same time that I ink the rest of the map. Less erasing later on, and that’s just how I’ve gotten into the habit of doing it.

Normally I only use pen/marker to detail my maps. With my world map from January 16, I used coloured pencil because I knew I couldn’t get too detailed or use too many symbols without making the map illegible. This time, I used a combination of coloured pencils and markers to help call out some of the “subtler” details –like the reef passages. It’s important to me to know where those are as it influences how quickly trade can come and go from the area. (Basically, other countries take the long way to just avoid the reefs entirely)

Chesnia et Eswald

But you can also see some of the symbols and colours I use to mark my regular maps. Whether you use the same system as me, or a different one is entirely up to you. My system derives from years of playing and running D&D games. It isn’t identical to that map system, but it’s close. What you use should be a personal choice that mixes functionality with easy-to-remember symbols/colours. Take a look at two other maps I’ve made (one is for Elgovina, the main country of interest in my latest NaNo novel, and the other is used for a sandbox D&D world I’m running –it uses city-states, primarily).

Elgovina et Asdarant MaterialPlane

Well, this was a short and sweet little ‘tutorial’. On February 9, I’m going to tackle city and building maps.


3 thoughts on “Making Maps: Country Details

  1. Pingback: Making Maps: A City of Wonder | Scribbles in the Margins

  2. Pingback: Making Maps: Drawing a World | Scribbles in the Margins

  3. Pingback: Why Should I Build a World? | Scribbles in the Margins

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