An Attempt to Chart the Uncharted, Part 1: Finding a Cooperative Cartographer

8:21 PM

Greetings to you from the cave!

In spite of the fact that my garden is being overtaken by weeds and piles of clutter are threatening to trap me at every turn, I've managed to log at least 42 hours towards my goal of 60 for Camp NaNo. If that doesn't tell you my order of priorities, I'm not sure what will.

Lately, I've been embroiled in a major aesthetics project for The White Rose. One that is keeping me up wayyy too late in the night. I even broke my 2 am rule for this thing.

So what was it that kept my interest for well over 10 hours now?

Well, it is....of all things....a map.

For most of my writing, I never really bothered with creating maps. Most of my stories were either historical fiction or contemporary - which were set in real places. This is true of stories like Hidden Seeds (Dark Age Wales), Rose of Culmore (19th Century Ireland), and Plain and Simple Truth (21st Century Lancaster, PA).

That got changed when I started dabbling into fantasy.

I first ran across the idea of creating a map when I was writing the first Meet the Books! linkup (which you can view HERE), hosted by my dear friend Belle Anne @ World of Ink and Paper. A few other participants would put their hand-drawn maps as answers for that question, and I thought that was a neat that I really wanted to try out. 

Except for one rather small thing....

I can't draw well.

It's not that I don't know how to draw. I have consulted a few drawing books, and I took a drawing elective in high school. I do like to draw occasionally, particularly animals and flowers.

My biggest issue is scale. Computer sizing and scaling has spoiled me exceedingly. I can't draw much to scale to save my little skin. I will be the first to admit that half of my drawings for my high school class were basically tracings of photographs. And well, I can't trace something that doesn't exist, really. With my luck, I would have drawn one landmass as a ginormous thing, and the other would have a corner....when both are supposed to be equal. 

So, drawing the map myself was out of the question. Hiring someone to draw it for me, even for food, wasn't a really good option for me either. Being broke really does have it's downsides, peeps.

Hence, to find an online map creator I went.

I made two major attempts, the most recent happening this week. I tried sites like Autorealm, Inkarnate, and other fantasy map creators. Most were aimed at gamers rather than authors, so I wasn't thrilled with the quality of the product (not realistic enough) or ease of use (wayyyy too many numbers and not enough dials working). Nor was I comfortable with creating an account for a website that I was only going to use a few times. And others such as Cartographer's Guild required payment and there was no way I was shelling out Scrivener prices for something that I wasn't going to use often.

I had GIMP on my computer already, and I tried researching tutorials on how to create maps on there. But again, the language was wayyyy above my head. I may be conversant in standard computer language, but throw in the graphic dialect and I'm sunk.

It was at this point that I found Roll for Fantasy's map creator, which you can find HERE

When I first researched it, the map creator seemed to be too complicated for my liking. I wasn't wild about how the site was laid out and the buttons didn't seem to work at first. The fact that it's a grid system didn't help matters.

But finding no better alternative after two separate searches, I decided to try to play with it. After all, it was free, required no account, and didn't have all the RPG jargon that made me nervous (some RPG games, including DnD, have some really dubious moral stuff about them that just....doesn't sit very well on my conscience)  

After actually reading the instructions on how to use the dumb thing (who knew those were important?) I set to work playing around with shapes.

I will warn you all now - whoever picks this cartographer site better really likes jigsaw puzzles. Because that's what it it's set up as.

All the individual pieces don't always match up with each other 100%. So it is possible to have a coastline end abruptly in a sort of funny shaped peninsula if the corner edge you picked doesn't match up on both ends. Hence, there is a lot of trial and error.

See what I mean?
Created using Roll for Fantasy Map Creator

Oh yes, and there is the olive green water. Gross, ain't it?

The great thing about this map creator that a realistic map can be achieved. I was able to create a really awesome looking world map, which included river deltas, archipelagos (island chains) and other cool stuff. The image can then be taken to another editor like GIMP, where it can be re-colorized and edited to look even more realistic. I'm not 100% sure, but I think the pieces were created using real coastline shapes...I'm sure I recognized several edges from England, France and other countries.

The drain is that it is INCREDIBLY time consuming. And the canvas is kinda limited on size and scale. I also have not been able to figure out the save and reload functions either, so I've been screenshot-saving all of my work and then having to reconstruct it - an extremely tedious task that I will touch on later on.

I've found it's best if one continent was drafted at a time, and then saving blank grids so that the world can be reconstructed in GIMP. And, if at all possible, set aside enough time to get it completely finished at once.

*pauses to catch breath*

*looks up*

Welp. I did it again. I guess this is another two parter! (though I'm sure you figured it out by now, seeing as how I have rather revealing titles *shifts eyes*) 

In the second part (and it will only be a second part, I promise!) I'll go through the actual map creation process and show you, finally, what my world of Verden looks like.

Scribbingly yours,


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  1. Whoa, that's awesome that you're doing that! Way to go! Looking forward to part 2! :)

  2. That's so neat! I kinda made a map for my "Lawrence Children" serial on my blog, but nothing impressive. It will be interesting to see yours!

  3. I already know what the map looks like (Alpha perks) but I still fell for the cliffhanger end and sat here like"...but I want to see it."

  4. And she ends on a cliffhanger! *dramatic radio voice* Will Catherine ever master the art of mapmaking? Will the world of Verden turn out? Return next week to find out!

    (Can't wait to see it!!)

  5. OoOoooooooOOooh! This is super cool!!!

  6. Awesome! I'm so glad that it worked out for you! I love drawing maps... but geez, can it be a pain sometimes. That site sounds like a nice solution!

  7. J+M+J
    Hmm, yes, I've had quite a few mapping problems on my world too... so far I've made like 3 or so maps, and each one is a little better, so I'm hoping eventually to make a final copy? It probably won't happen till the close of book 2 though.
    This looks really neat, and helpful, I might bookmark it if ever I need it, thanks! (Though, I'm hoping I won't... I do love mapping out things, it makes it seem so much more real!)
    I can't wait either, not that I know anything about your story or the world setting, but I've always loved maps, so I'm interested to see yours.

    The Doorman.

  8. THE SUSPENSE *tragically wails in despair*



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