Make A Map for NaNoWriMo

Another year. Another NaNoWriMo. Another pitch urging writers to pen their fantasy novels with a map as an aid. Yes, here I go again talking about maps. Actually, to be more specific, your fantasy map.

Your story takes on a new dimension when you can see it. Imagining locations becomes easier, as does context because you can see the region around it. It further enables making logical deductions about climate and economy.

The most common reason for not making a map is that writers are convinced they can’t draw one. Okay, let’s change the wordage. You can probably sketch a map (more on this in a bit).

Maps can aid non-fantasy writers. Contemporary fiction writers can, of course, find maps online. They’re invaluable tools for historical fiction. Science fiction? Even if all the action takes place on a ship you might want to diagram it.

Pannulus. ©2020 CA Hawthorne

Yes, I love to create maps and often (not always) go far beyond sketches. I enjoy reaching for that line between art and function, but that’s me. Do the same, if you’d like. For now, though, NaNo is close. Really close.

Here’s a tale about sketches. My maps haven’t always been (and aren’t always still) fancy, especially in the beginning…

When I started world building for Ontyre and, more specifically, Carrdia (which wasn’t even called that then) all I did was flip over a scrap sheet of paper (you can see writing bleeding through from the other side). I then sketched a map on the back. It took me less than an hour.

I can’t believe I’m pulling this map out yet again, especially when, for the longest time, I thought I’d lost it.

That first map…

  • Provided a better sense of scale and distance and identified what locations were close to one another and which were isolated.
  • It identified where each land feature was located, along with water, and revealed barriers to travel and the likely weather patterns.
  • From all that, various economies appeared, whether they were based on manufacturing, farming, shipping, fishing, livestock, etc.. That led to…
1st Carrdia Map (2000), CA Hawthorne.


Questions are invaluable for helping a world, and a story, grow. That’s also why story questions are vital for helping to draw the reader in.

Yes, you can ask questions without a map, but a map allows your eyes to wander, your mind and imagination tagging along. Too, NaNo is about maintaining a strong drafting pace. That makes it critical to eliminate any and all unnecessary thoughts and actions. A map makes referencing and speculating faster and easier.

Still, what’s most important are the characters…

  • Is a character content where they are or do they dream of traveling. Where? Why?
  • What’re the chances they’ll travel (remember: barriers and distance)?
  • How has the geography/weather/culture influenced the character?
  • What skills do they possess as a result of their environment?
  • What impact will a change have on them if they relocate?

That’s but a small sample of questions. In truth, each novel presents new ones.

This novel has been no different. Talma’s new home in Duskspell is a place full of memories. In fact, she can sit on her balcony and gaze across the river at the home she misses and think of the people she’s certain she’ll never see again. She’s also wedged between city districts representing different aspects of her life. It’s also not the easiest city to navigate. It’s often foggy and there’s water all around.

Sketched Map: CA Hawthorne

Here’s the bottom line: If you can’t decide where mountains, hills, rivers, lakes, and deserts are located in a sketch, how are you going to do all that while writing in a hurry during NaNo? How are you going to keep it all straight when your time is limited?

I keep alluding to sketching maps, yet am better known for the fancy one’s I’ve created. My artsy-crafty maps are intended for long-term use and sharing. Believe me, I still sketch, most often specific locations, big and small.

Last year, I sketched the city of Cather in Pannulus for Protecting the Pneuma Key. Having the primary locations pinpointed was enough to orient me. This year I’ve done the same for Case of the Deadly Stroll. Doing so has already averted my making a long list of mistakes and has given me new ideas.

*Not that the sketch is flawless. Half-asleep when I made it, I wrote some of the street names upside down. If I have time, I may fix it, or I might do so before the novel’s first edit, or I might not bother. It works, regardless.

I’ve also created a blueprint for Talma’s two-story apartment in FiveTower. Similarly, I created a quick diagram of Throne’s Nightclub in Duskspell. I’ll probably do the same for Gallery Arcana and a couple of other locations. There’s also a dinner party that’s in the works. I’ll sketch a seating chart for that. It’s important to know who’s to the right or left of a character and whether someone has to lean forward to see someone else.

I’m a visual person, yet can have difficulty translating that to the page. Maps and diagrams help me do that, and help me do so in better fashion than if I hadn’t created them. Fancy maps are for showing off. Any map is sufficient for serving as a tool.

Don’t be afraid to sketch visual aids. You’ll thank yourself during NaNo, and your readers will thank you for keeping your directions straight.


About Christina Anne Hawthorne

Alive and well in the Rocky Mountains. I'm a fantasy writer who also dabbles in poetry, short stories, and map making. My Ontyre tales are an alternative fantasy experience, the stories rich in mystery, adventure, and romance. Alternative fantasy? Not quite steampunk. Not quite gothic. In truth, the real magic is in those who discover what's within.
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4 Responses to Make A Map for NaNoWriMo

  1. marisbave says:

    I love making maps, and I re-sketch my world in every notebook I use for a given project. It’s also interesting to see the world evolve just a little bit with each new notebook (most recent addition: a river for my travelers to follow).

    • Yes, they do evolve! I love that point. Once we have that initial map then we’re free to explore and discover the really exciting details we never suspected. My maps that are sketched I keep in a folder on my desk, adding details each time I use them. Many though, I re-sketch and, like you, evolve the map. The Duskspell map I shared was the second.

      • marisbave says:

        I suppose it’s not surprising that maps change and grow on us, when so many other parts of story do the same thing–characters, plot, etc.

      • Absolutely. In fact, of done blog posts on that very topic. Back in May I did a series on my maps. The last one, “Ontyre Map Series 5 – Pannulus Emerges” tells the story of its evolution. Even after that, though, as I’ve written novels that take place there, I’ve added more details. I’m pretty sure it’s going to be a lifelong adventure and that makes me very happy.

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