1. JTheGreat
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    JTheGreat Contributing Member

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    Fantasy Maps

    Discussion in 'Plot Development' started by JTheGreat, Jul 15, 2010.

    My story takes place in a fairly small zone (an academy, a few castles, and a town mostly), but I'd still like to make my own map, because I like drawing and knowledge of locations opens up much more opportunities for plots.

    Problem is, I know little to nothing about the rules of such mapmaking, other than the obvious "Don't Put a Tundra Next to a Desert Next to a Forest" rule, but, I have some questions, about mapmaking in general as well as some misc. stuff that I've always wanted to know that would help my understandin of my universe greatly. If you know the answers, any help would be appreciated, and any other tips would be awesome.

    First off, do both ends of a river ultimately end up connected to the open ocean? Cristopher Paolini has been criticised for having rivers that lead to nowhere, but I've seen plenty of other authors do it. If they're in the right, where does the water... um... go?

    ...that's all I'm curious about, apparently, since that's all my summer-fried brain can come up with. But still, help!
     
  2. Banzai
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    Banzai One-time Mod, but on the road to recovery Contributor

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    Rivers start with springs, usually in hills or mountains, and run downhill to a lake or to the sea.

    But I would point out, that if you're intending to try and get this novel published, the publisher will almost certainly sort out all that.
     
  3. Islander
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    Islander Contributing Member Contributor

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    No, only one end of the river needs to be connected to the sea.

    Usually, many small streams start in highlands and mountainous areas, join together to form rivers as they meet eachother, and eventually lead into the sea.

    Looking at a world map may help.

    EDIT: If the river leads into a lake, that lake has to dispose of its water somewhere, so eventually there will be a connection to the sea.
     
  4. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    not always springs, banz...

    many rivers begin as runoff from glaciers, others as a series of small streams issuing from snow-capped mountains... some are outlets of lakes...
     
  5. Islander
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    Islander Contributing Member Contributor

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    Some basic geology (I hope I'm not offending those to whom this is obvious):

    Rivers and lakes

    Water evaporates from lakes and seas to form clouds. Some clouds drift over land areas and dispose of their water in the form of rain or snow. Mountain ranges and other highly elevated terrain force clouds to release their moisture, which is why rivers are often formed at the foot of mountains.

    So, look at your map. Where is the sea? Which way is the wind usually blowing from the sea? Where does it encounter a mountain range? There is a likely place for a river to start (unless it's so far inland the air has already lost most of its moisture on the way).

    Once the river is formed, the water runs downhill (duh) until it encounters a barrier. Since water keeps coming down the river, it forms a lake within the barrier, until it runs over and continues downhill. Repeat until the river reaches the sea.

    Likely places for dry deserts are areas far from any water sources, especially if there is a mountain range between them and the sea. Dry deserts are also situated in two belts north and south of the equator, which you can pretty easily spot on a map of the Earth.

    Mountains

    The real Earth is covered by tectonic plates. North America forms one plate, South America one, the bottom of the North Atlantic Ocean one, and so on. These plates slowly drift and press against eachother. Where two plates are forced together, they are deformed and rise up into mountains. These areas are also plagued by earthquakes.

    The Andees mountain range has been formed by the South American plate pressing against the Pacific Ocean plate over long times. The Alps are formed by Africa pressing aginst Europe. The Himalayas are formed by the Indian plate pressing against the main Asia plate. And so on.

    Mountains are, in turn, ground down slowly by wind and rain, or more quickly by glaciers. Europe is pretty flat all the way down to the Alps - that's how far down the glaciers reached during the last ice age.
     
  6. JTheGreat
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    JTheGreat Contributing Member

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    Thanks for those little tidbits. Well, I DID take 7th grade science, so most of this is familiar to me, but I didn't know the Rain Shadow Effect as why rivers started at the bottoms of mountains. You learn something new every day, I guess.
     
  7. ada
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    ada New Member

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    I'm not sure if this might be of any help at all, but...

    Many times I've used past continental formations as layouts for maps fantasy world maps.

    It's...interesting to see how things changed over time.
     
  8. JTheGreat
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    JTheGreat Contributing Member

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    Wait, so would it be plausible for a lake to start in the north, have a river branching off of it going south? Because lakes are standing water (or are those ponds?), so they're usually closed in. I think. I had to give back my social studies book so I'm kind of lost.
     
  9. erik martin
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    erik martin Contributing Member

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    Most lakes are fed from a source and have an outlet, the water in a lake moves enough so that it does not stagnate. An outlet river could come off from the south of a lake, certainly, depending on the slope of the land.
     
  10. jwilder
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    I've drawn a few maps for a series of short stories I wrote a few years back. I usually start by drawing how I see things in my head, logical or not. A desert can be next to a lake, at least to start. Then I look at the drawing and start to tweak it to make sense logically. No, a desert can no longer be next to a lake. I follow basic rules of logic: hills usually precede mountains (but not always). Water runs to the lowest point, north to south (the Nile and a few others not withstanding). It can't snow in the desert. Bodies of water mean green things. Etc, Etc. Then tweak away even more until you get the geography you need to make your story work. If you can't, consider revising the plot slightly to make it more logical geographically.
     
  11. zaphod
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    Mountains and basin and range systems usually create hot arid territories most would call deserts outside the typical latitudes thanks to the rain shadow effect and orographic lift. There are some unexpectedly dry pockets in British Columbia near Kamloops, or in New Zealand by Mt. Ruhapehu, etc, and there are even spiny desert plants in these environments. Of course, nothing says lakes can't exist in such areas, and they can experience snow too. What about the Great Salt Lake? or Lake Chad? Lake Chad in particular is an incredible place, where Saharan dunes rise like thousands of islands among marshland and shallow pools.

    Seriously, just be creative.
     
  12. Sang Hee
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    Sang Hee Contributing Member

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    Unless you're making some planet with almost unnatural characteristics then you can inspire yourself in our own planet Earth. Look at the world's map and notice how it's ordered. That helped me.
     
  13. HeinleinFan
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    HeinleinFan Banned

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    HeinleinFan's mapmaking / city planning / country planning rant

    I think you should choose a scale to work from first, because that will give you a better idea of how much detail you have to include.

    For a small town and its defensive castle, you would have a couple streets, including (likely) a lane with stores and a lane with industry. (Because no one wants to have an open air fruit market next to the tanners... ugh. In fact, food will probably stay away from the tanners, dyers, and other smelly-arse industry because it will hurt business to be near unpleasant or nauseating odors.) Horse stables can be near-ish to the market or dry goods stores, because horse dung isn't that bad, but pigs can't be near the market because pig excrement is quite bad.

    Of course, this, too, depends on your worldbuilding. Perhaps you have professional "wizards" or "alchemists" who deliberately found gut bacteria that minimized odor, and once or twice a year they visit each township to make sure the livestock have been inoculate to decrease the smell. Perhaps these wizards travel with armed men, doctors, a judge or two, or priests, and make their circuit every now and again, making sure justice is fair, the citizens are in good health, and that the nation's grain supply can be brought out if a river flooded and the doctor arrives to find the people starving.

    Customs may matter. Is the rising sun important, such that towns will be built on the west side of riverways, in order to provide a clear view of the sunrise? Does each town have a ring of trees around it, or in the middle of the town? (Assuming you can afford the water...)

    Technology matters. A small kingdom will not be able to bring in luxury goods unless it has trade with countries that have grape country for winemaking, a port for whale oil, apple country for cider, the necessary temperatures for zebrawood and ebony and oak and cedar. Large towns will be near ports or shipping -- rivers, or the ocean, or a lake chain if you want to have a society on the Great Lakes that trades with countries on the other side. If steam engines are available, there may be shipping by rail. Heck, even without steam engines, horses can drag much heavier weights over railways than they can over ice or a regular road. But rail road tracks have to be fairly straight and level...

    If you want a few towns, castles and a larger city, that too implies a lot. Castles are built for defense -- if they're broad and open we call them "palaces," not "castles." Castles means siege warfare, mercenary or conscripted armies, fighting that can destroy cropland and bridges. Build castles in places that are worth defending -- mountain passes, bridges, ford areas on rivers, excellent mining areas (like places with easy-to-reach coal, copper, iron, silver, gold...), sacred places. Towns will be around or inside the castle; the castle folk will need people to support them, feed them, grow crops and repair armor and breed oxen for plowing and horses for war.

    Cities, again, will be near an area where they can bring in lots of food, easily and consistently. A few hundred hard working people will eat a quarter ton of food per day, and unless you have truly awesome amazing food storage technology, your people will be importing a lot of food every month. Grains are excellent for calories-per-weight, fruit and vegetables are good for vitamins, fish is going to be brought in by ships on a daily basis. Meat may be more of a seasonal thing.

    Your cities may have a garrison that protects the area from bandits and criminals, and the garrison may protect the local farmers in exchange for a tax on meat, eggs and milk. Big animals need a lot of grazing land, and horses and other beasts of burden need high-energy food. You don't feed a warhorse on grass alone! No, you'll want hay, and oats (crushed a little to improve the energy the horse gets per cup of grain -- ex. rolled oats or meal), possibly sugar. Cows and goats need to be milked more than once a day, so dairy farmers can't afford the time it would take to join the garrison soldiers to fight off bandits; they might be particularly willing to make a deal...

    So you might end up with, say, a river that broadens into a delta as it hits a particularly flat area, whereupon it turns to marsh. Some of the marsh is swamp, and provides low-quality timber; some of the marsh has been drained and is used by farmers. A large town slightly up-stream serves as a population center, a technology-rich area, a port for riverboats from upstream and ocean/river vessels from beyond where the delta and the ocean meet. The town can trade with small upriver towns (mining / trapping / logging towns) as well as cities from down the coast. If ship technology is still low, the ships will hop along the coastline; if ships have triangular sails and good navigation tools, they may sail all the way across the ocean, bringing oddly clothed foreigners, strange plants, herbs, livestock, cloth...

    Or you could have a valley, separated from the sea by one mountain range and from the in-continent plains by a second range of mountains. Irregular creeks flow down the mountains, join into a couple of rivers, and become one strong river as they hit the valley floor. The river will bring rich mountain topsoil to the valley, giving its residents great farmland as well as a water supply, while the mountains protect the valley from coastal storms. Towns will be medium sized here, not cities, but the people will have enough to eat, and caravans of trade can go from one end of the valley to the other, or follow the river to the coastline and the cities there. (I am, of course, describing a real valley -- the San Joaquin Valley, in California -- but you could easily put castles along the riverway and trade routes.)

    For a smallish fantasy kingdom -- meaning, the size of France or smaller -- you can put down mountain ranges and coastline, use those to plot out reasonable rivers and valleys good for farming, the locations of lakes, and any special areas (marsh, swamp, forests, sacred places, ruins, magical places). Once the geography is set, big towns are easy to place -- you put them by water routes where trade can go back and forth, or in a place where the farming is good and the water suppy is steady. Small towns are placed somewhere they can trade, gather resources (mining, gold rush, trappers, timber, rock quarries), or farm (prairie farms, valley farms). Roads connect important or wealthy towns. Canals may connect big towns to waterways in order to facilitate trade and food imports.

    And once you have your towns, you have your people -- which means conflict. Is there a town with rich coastal fishing, while a kingdom farther inland has to scrape by with dry-weather farming? A country that just developed steam engines, and so its in-land towns are able to get more food and grow larger, and the neighboring country is worried that this will mean worse plague outbreaks when plague hits, or is concerned about getting screwed over by trade agreements? What if a small country depends on clean watersources because its main industry is dyeing cloth, and the dye comes from a mollusk that lives in fresh water, and the up-stream town from a different country starts dumping tanning chemicals in the river and killing the mollusks?

    ... Yeah. Some of that was mapmaking advice, some of it was worldbuilding. Fantasy is not easy to do; the cookie-cutter plots are well-trodden at this point, and making a world unique enough to differentiate it from the poor-quality Tolkien imitators will require that the author think about his work. Where is my city's food coming from? What is its government like? How developed are its technology and magic systems? Which nearby cities compete with it for trade? If my story's hero is a shoemaker's apprentice who gets called to war by the King's Levy, and he has to leave his big rivertown and go to a garrison at a cold wet coastal town, how will life change for him? How will he react when he has to eat different food, get lower pay (possibly), learn how to fight with pike or arquebus or crossbow or spear? What things will be better for him (richer cloth, cheaper seafood, easier access to cheap-but-good foreign jewelry or gems that he can send home to his family as gifts)?

    The mapmaking can lead to some interesting questions, and the answers you provide can give you plenty of fodder for stories.
     

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