Cartography – Map Your World

Map Your World

I’m doing double duty this month during the A to Z Blogging Challenge. I will be doing the challenge here at Heather Erickson Author/Writer/Speaker, where I will share ways to increase your creativity. Today’s post is C for Cartography. Map your world.

I’ll also be doing the challenge at Facing Cancer with Grace, where I will share posts that focus on caregiving. I hope you’ll visit me at both sites. While you’re here, sign up for my email list.


Cartography is the study of maps. If you’ve ever read an epic fantasy with a map (even a crude one) sketched on the inside cover, you know the power of maps. They give both the writer and the reader an understanding of where everything is in the world of the book. It’s this that makes cartography so compatible with world building.

Creating a map of your world right from the start will help cement in your mind where everything is, and where your character will travel. When I read a book in which I feel I can travel around in the world without getting lost, I suspect the author created a map in his/her writing process. Hugh Howey’s Wool is like that. It was easy to envision a vertical city within a silo.

Creating a map of your world will prevent bad timing.

Hugh Howey also has great timing in Wool. Travel up and down the levels within the silo (and everywhere else in the series) was perfect. When bad timing happens, the reader is pulled out of the world and back to reality where they try to figure off what’s “off” about the story. How did she get there so fast? When my critique group read one of the chapters in my mystery novel, someone pointed out that there was no way one of the characters could see what another character was holding in her hands from where I had placed them in the scene. They were within view of each other, but they were too far to see anything that detailed. Wool brings up another subject related to Cartography…

Maps don’t need to be limited to your normal everyday street maps.

The city in your book might not be structured like the one in which you live with lots and blocks. Your map may not even be of a journey like the one taken by Frodo in The Lord of the Rings. Speaking of Middle Earth… If you’re a fan, check out this beautiful tapestry of a map of Middle Earth.
You could create a map of the subway system if your main character frequently uses that mode of transportation.

Or, you may want to map out a structure. In Josh Malerman’s Bird Box several people live in one house at the same time. Often, they have to wear blindfolds, so the placement of characters and items in the house is important. He pulls the story off masterfully. You can tell that he knows exactly where everything is. Readers of the story are just as grounded. In order to get this effect, it helps to make a map.

Real locations

If you’re writing about a place you don’t know intimately, a map is essential. More knowledgeable readers will quickly sniff out any mistakes if you don’t take great pains to get the details right. An American writing a story which takes place in Paris, for example, would want a map to help visualize the various neighborhoods of the city. Thankfully, we have the advantage of Google Earth and Instant Street View, to help us follow the journey our character takes.

Map Your World

Should you include the map in the book?

My personal preference is not to. Instead, describe the location or journey in such a way that your reader feels like they are there. Later, when your book is famous like those of JRR Tolkien or CS Lewis, you can sell your map on a tapestry as well!

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What are YOUR thoughts?

I’d love to hear in the comment section, below. I appreciate my readers as well as the writing community. To show that appreciation, I use Comment Luv. Just leave a comment below and your latest post will get a link next to it. Thank you!

About Heather Erickson

I am an author, writer, and speaker and homeschooling mom of 3. Since doctors diagnosed my husband, Dan with stage IV lung cancer in 2012, I’ve focused my writing and speaking on helping cancer patients and their families advocate for themselves and live life to the fullest, in spite of their illness. My goal is to help people face cancer with grace.

My books The Memory Maker’s Journal and Facing Cancer as a Friend: How to Support Someone Who Has Cancer, are available at

I also blog about living with cancer at, Facing Cancer with Grace.

My Family
The Erickson Family, Photo by Everbranch Photography

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14 comments on “Cartography – Map Your World

This is a great tip. I’m working on a novel that has sci-fi elements. A map will help me visualize the world. And then I will be able to draw from that visualization in my words. Thank you

Hi Nancy. I hope it helps. I’ve missed you this year on A to Z. I hope you are having a great week. Bless you!

I have considered a map for my current WIP. It would definitely benefit from it. Good analysis of that.

Of course I should consider a map as I write my new book.! Thanks for the great tip.

Hi Antoinette, I always like to map out the town I am writing about, just to get to know it better. Thanks for stopping by!

Maps are so often wrong. Even Tolkien made mistakes. I once heard a talk by a cartographer who had written his own fantasy novel with maps, who said he loves Tolkien, but LOTR had made some big mistakes, especially in the journey through Moria. I bought his novel, but have to say that, accurate or not, it wasn’t as good as LOTR! 🙂

Hi Sue, It’s pretty tough to top Lord of the Rings. I always offer authors a little grace. It’s so hard, especially in an epic like LOTR to keep everything straight–especially before PCs. Thanks for stopping by! 🙂

Hi Heather,
It has been a crazy busy day and I’m just now starting to read everyone’s C contributions. I love yours about maps.
Just last night I watched the movie Inside Out – the Pixar animation film from inside a young girl’s brain. The map of the inside of her brain was fascinating and I was thinking about how that structure would have made the creation of the animation and the writing of the script so much easier. Similar, of course, to mapping out the structure of a book like Bird Box. I’ll have to look for that one. Thanks for the suggestion.

Hi Karen, Every time I hear about Inside Out, I kick myself because I still haven’t seen it and it sounds so amazing! I think you can map out just about anything and it will help you keep it straight as you write about it (even a young girl’s brain) lol. I have 3 daughters so I know how complex girls’ minds are. 🙂

I’m a big fan of fantasy novels – a map comes in really handy when it’s a completely made up world with countries, cities and towns, mountain ranges, rivers and goodness knows what else. When it’s a contemporary novel I’m happy to go with the writer and forego a map.

Leanne |
D for Don’t Give Up

Hi Leanne. Many books don’t go into the geography of the setting at all. It’s kind of a refreshing change because it’s one less thing to keep track of, for the writer and the reader.

I love maps! I hope to do a geography series at Dragon’s Eye View AFTER the A to Z challenge (I’m doing cursive handwriting with dragon words!). My husband read the Wool series a few years ago and just finished listened to it via Audible — he loved it, maybe the good timing helped make it such a great story. We love Tolkien around here too. Keep up the great A to Z-ing!

Hi Lee, I am so glad you stopped by. I checked out your A to Z theme on cursive writing and I love it! Have a wonderful day!

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