Lately I have been working on maps for the next books, which are to be a series. I love mapping! I started out on my own, working in Photoshop, but over the years some tips and tutorials from the Cartographer’s Guild have helped me refine my skills. The folks over there are amazingly talented and supportive. The things I’ve learned make me excited to make more, more, more maps—and the graphic tablet my wonderful kids gave me a couple Christmases ago makes it even more fun.

As far as maps + writing fantasy go, I have read advice that declares one must start with a map to advice that says “maps are nice, but you don’t really need them.” Lest there be any doubt, I am firmly in the first camp. Well, mostly… I started As the Crow Flies without a map, sketched one out on paper as I went along, then managed to lose it. There was much weeping and wailing in the land. I felt oddly lost.

Sherakai’s story began without a map—but it also began in a role-playing forum in which a map was actually available. I just didn’t know about it at first. Oops! The thing was sadly out of proportion and I eventually made a new one to donate to the cause. I learned a lot about writing while I was with the role-playing group. It was a good impetus for honing my own style, most particularly when it came to writing stories to be posted on the boards, but eventually I found the venue limiting. Mind you, I am opposed to reading material that looks/sounds like it came from a role-playing session. While it’s great fun to play, it makes for very choppy reading. I did, in fact, recently read a book that bore an unfortunate resemblance to gaming. Thank you, but no.

But I digress…

I made an awesome map for the role-playing forum, and I figured out the bones of a really good story. I even had people tell me I ought to write a book. Very gratifying. However, I couldn’t simply scrape that story out of the forum and into a book of my own; I needed an original world and my own characters. And then, because we worked so splendidly together, the entire project became a joint effort with Kristie, who I originally met in the forum. We established a timeline that included points that must happen in the course of our characters’ development—and we changed everything else. Then we gnawed at some of the details and changed them some more. An entirely new world has emerged: Tairenth. The process of developing it has been (and continues to be) both challenging and incredible.

Having a map not only helps us to keep technical details of the book(s) in perspective, but it makes the place come alive. It looks like someplace. It’s real. It’s helped us to ask further questions about the history of the land. One things often leads to another, and it amazes me how the threads of creation weave back and forth to produce a whole tapestry. Naming places led to more work on the native language, which in turn took us to a discussion about an aspect of the culture. From there we leaped to questions about the magic, and suddenly we’d tweaked and reshaped an old element into something unique. We had the kathraul’en“Shades, nightmares, whispers of lives that never were….” Far more than mere shadows, these constructs of twisted magic are a frightening part of our protagonist’s lives. They know them personally. Intimately. The kathraul’en are the impetus of actions both terrible and wonderful.

It’s too early in the game to do a full map reveal, but I’ll leave you with a little teaser—part of the coastline of Ryali, and the river that leads to the capital city and a surprising chain of events in Sherakai’s life.

What do you think? Are maps a necessary part of fantastic worlds, or just eye-candy? What are some of your favorite fictional maps?