Mapping Resources for Authors

Mapping Resources for Authors (and GMs)

“But I can’t draw…”

How many times have we heard that from our fellow fantasy authors? It’s said when we discuss web design, book cover design, email marketing design, cover design, but it gets said most often when we discuss map designs for our various fantastical projects. Fantasy readers love maps. They draw fan into your world—and while they’re not a requirement, they’ve become expected to some extent.

That expectation is what stresses folks out—but there are solutions out there that can help! There are all sorts of tool that will get you a useful map so you can get back to writing. To help, I’ve put together this post. Here you’ll find all sorts of mapping resource from the simple to the complex. This will not be a definitive guide, merely a handy set of tools I’ve used that might empower you.

If you have a suggestion for a tool I should check out or an article or guide I should read, feel free to leave a comment or send an email to hello@kmalexander.com. I’ll be happy to update the post after I check it out for myself.


Contents

  1. The Lazy Way — Map Generation
  2. The Hybrid Solution — Easy Map Creators
  3. The Time Sink — Making Your Own Maps
  4. Further Resources


The Lazy Way — Map Generation

If you are not picky about your map but want a base to annotate consider one of these free map-generation tools. Please note, most of these are fine for personal use, but you should check their licensing options if you plan on including these in your manuscript. (I highly recommend you hire an illustrator to redraw your map when you get to that point. You’ll get a style that fits your book and you’ll avoid any licensing lawsuits.)

Uncharted Atlas

In-depth mapping generation focus on creating realistic and random landscapes. If you’re not picky, these are an excellent starting point. I highly recommend running through the whole tutorial to see how the process works. Be sure to follow the Uncharted Atlas Twitter account for new maps generated hourly.

Upsides: Unique maps that pay attention to realistic geology
Downsides: Small images, no easy way to download high-resolution files.

Azgaar Fantasy Map Generator

Azgaar’s Fantasy Map Generator

In-depth mapping generator that allows for a wide variety of themes and customization. Azgaar has a great blog where he goes into detail about his process, and I’d encourage you to check it out.

Upsides: Loads of customization, download of editable vector .svg files
Downsides: Bit buggy. Occasionally crashes some browsers.

Planet Map Generator

Planet Map Generator

When you’re looking for something a bit larger, this planet map generator helps you expand to a global scale. Simple choose a seed and then customize to your heart’s content.

Upsides: Loads of customization, a lot of customizability
Downsides: Maps can be a little ugly

GM World Map

GM World Map

An expansive generated map that allows for custom levels of zoom. Loads of options and an excellent base for world maps.

Upsides: Lots of random generations make for unique maps, WYSIWYG saving
Downsides: No customizability

Medieval Fantasy City Generator

Watabou’s Medieval Fantasy City Generator

If you’re looking for generating something a bit smaller than continents or worlds, then this city generator is perfect. It allows for some style customization and a few other little treats.

Upsides: Highly detailed, fun visual customization, WYSIWYG saving
Downsides: Occasional strangeness w/ output. Oddly shaped buildings. No zoom.


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The Hybrid Solution — Easy Map Creators

Often, we authors have something particular in mind, and auto-generated maps won’t quite work out for us. But it would be nice to have some sort of program that achieves the style we want without learning cartography. The tools below are designed for just that.

Mapgen4 from Red Blob Games

Mapgen4 from Red Blob Games [New!]

If you’re looking for a classic fantasy approach and a simple (and quite powerful execution) then the latest version of Mapgen is perfect. With the wave of your brush, you can create stunning high-resolution maps in moments.

Upsides: Incredible maps in moments, realistic biomes, high-resolution output
Downsides: Rivers are placed automatically, lack of brush sizes, only terrain

Roll for Fantasy

Roll for Fantasy

Using tile-based imagery, this site allows you to create a wide variety of maps. Tiles can be rotated and mirrored creating a lot of customizability.

Upsides: Loads of customization.
Downsides: Maps can be a little plain. Time-consuming.

Inkarnate

This is one of my favorites. Inkarnate lets you draw maps quickly and effectively, and they look good. The Pro account allows for even more customizability.

Upsides: Easy to use. Lots of options.
Downsides: One specific style, it’s a good one, but a limit.

Worldspinner

World Spinner

If you want to get into the nitty-gritty of political borders and imperial expansion, then World Spinner (subscription-based) might be the right fit. Plus it includes a neat Heraldry Designer as well.

Upsides: Focus on countries and borders for fantasy. Heraldry designer.
Downsides: Not totally customizable.


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The Time Sink — Making Your Own Maps

Sometimes auto-generated images won’t hack it. Either you have a specific world in mind, or you want complete control over the placement of mountain ranges, cities, towns, harbors, and rivers of your world. I get it, I too suffer from that sickness. Thankfully, there’s a lot out there to help make your map be the best it can be.

First, let’s start with some advice…
Crafting Plausible Maps

What does it take to craft a world that feels authentic and realistic? How much of your design will be rooted in fantasy and how much will be based on scientific principles? In this in-depth article, Brandon Kier takes you through the dos and don’ts of fantasy cartography.

Tolkien’s Map and The Messed Up Mountains of Middle-earth

I’ve always felt there’s something a little off about the classic map of Middle-earth. Author and geologist Alex Acks agrees. In this article for Tor.com, he goes into details on the strange geology of Tolkien’s classic.

Fantastic Cartography Tips From the Guy Who Mapped Game of Thrones

Jonathan Roberts has an extensive pedigree when it comes to fantasy cartography. In this quick article for Wired, he discusses the things he keeps in mind as he embarks on each and every commission.

10 Rules For Making Better Fantasy Maps

A map should help enhance your story, and Lauren Davis has ten tips you can use to improve your project.

Now, let’s check out some tutorials…
Fantastic Maps — Map Making Tutorials

Jonathan Roberts (from the Wired article earlier) has a ton of handy guides on his blog—Fantastic Maps. In his posts, he shares how you can quickly sketch out portions of your map using only a pen and paper. Be sure to check out his Tips & Tricks sections.

Ascensions’ Atlas style in Photoshop

This step by step guide is often duplicated and for a good reason. It goes into great detail explaining how you can make a custom and unique atlas-style map for your setting.

Learn to Draw a Stunning Map Using Photoshop

Over at the World Building School, Nathan Smith goes into detail about how he creates a stylized map using Photoshop.

A Magical Society: Guide to Mapping

The key here is plausible worlds. This free downloadable PDF goes into great detail on constructing a map that feels realistic. The art is up to you, but the planning is solid.

This is a time-consuming process, and to create something memorable it’ll take a lot of trial and error. Especially if you’re just starting out. But the end result is something that fits your vision perfectly. Plus, like generated maps, there’s always the option of hiring an illustrator to redraw your creation. Just make sure to get those core ideas down on paper.


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Further Resources

If you are looking for additional help. Here are a few more resources for you to explore.

Making Magnificent Mountains

A free Adobe Illustrator or Photoshop brush set I created which allows you to recreate hachure-style mountains to lend a turn-of-the-century feel to your maps.

r/Mapmaking

Reddit’s map making subforum has a ton of great advice and a lot of inspiration. While you’re at it make sure to check out their Mapmaking Wiki. It’s basically this post but with a ton more tools listed.

Cartographers Guild

This online community has been around for a long time and has a ton of great members who are happy to share process, tips, tricks, and tools with the community. It’s also a great place to look for illustrators that can turn your sketches into a work of art.

Old Maps Online

Inspiration can come from anywhere. This handy site allows you to zoom into specific areas on the map and find old maps related to that area. Never know what cool stuff you’ll stumble across.


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This is just a small list of tools I’ve tried and liked. There’s a variety of sites and programs out there for a variety of authors and more coming along each day. As with everything, map creation is about finding the tool that works for you, fits your vision, and keeps you writing. As I mentioned in the beginning, if you have a site or resource you like that’s not on this list, let me know! I’d love to continue expanding this post.

Now, go make some maps.

✨🗺✨


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Introducing: Red Litten World

Red Litten World

“…legend said that it had come from a mysterious inner realm beneath the red-litten world—a black realm of peculiar-sensed beings which had no light at all, but which had great civilisations and mighty gods…”

—H. P. Lovecraft & Zealia Bishop, “The Mound”

For a while now my Project Tracker on the right side of the blog has listed an “Unnamed Waldo Bell Story.” Well, I’m nearing the end of the first draft (80k words at the time of this post) and I feel it’s time to announce the name for that project: Red Litten World.

I’m not going to go into detail on Red Litten World’s plot…yet. All these books are meant to work as stand-alone stories, but they do build upon one another. Since Old Broken Road isn’t out, it’s best I keep the details on the down-low. However, if you want to see the visuals that have inspired this project, you can hit up my new inspiration board over on Pinterest.

It is exciting to see this all come together. We started when The Stars Were Right, soon we visit the Old Broken Road, and eventually we’ll see the Red Litten World. Wow, this is starting to sound like a series!

Friday Link Pack—End of the Year Edition (2013)

Medieval & Renaissance  Cartographic Sea Monsters

Every Friday I compile a list of my favorite links I’ve seen throughout the week. Since this is the last Friday of the year I figured I’d go back and see what interested you the most and combine them into an End of Year Edition that featured the most popular links. Have a link I should feature in the upcoming year? Let me know!

Writing:

Random Story Title Generator
The name says it all, while the results are often silly I do find it great for brainstorming. Let me know when your first edition of: “Madman Fights Desert” hits bookstores. I’ll be at the front of the line.

12 Real Life Inventions That Science Fiction is Neglecting at its Peril
One of my favorite bloggers, Charlie Jane Anders, compiled a list of real life inventions that has been neglected by modern science fiction. If you’re looking for some inspiration for your own project look no further. There’s a lot here.

The Best Symbols To Throw Some Scare Into Your Story
I am a huge fan of symbolism. I think it can add an extra layer of depth for the readers willing to do the leg work. It also creates a richer experience overall. In this post Lauren shared a few spooky symbols you can add to your own writing. No surprise this made the list. Lauren’s posts are always amazing.

Art:

Jason Thompson’s “Lovecraft’s Dream Quest”
There was a lot of interest in this visual retelling of Lovecraft’s Dream Cycle. Not only is it beautiful but Thompson’s style has a level of detail rarely seen in the webcomic space. Worth spending time with.

Sean Cumiskey’s Fan Art for The Stars Were Right
I loved this piece when Sean sent it to me. I still love it today. Dark, moody, engaging. Apparently you all liked it as much as me.

Heath Lewis’ Wowly Heck
Heath Lewis (who created some awesome fan art) also started Wowly Heck—his experimental blog featuring new spins on some amazing monsters that you all loved. Very cool stuff.

Random:

Behold, the Moon as you’ve never seen it before
It’s a rad animated gif of the Moon! Who doesn’t love the moon!?

8 Ruined Cities That Remain a Mystery to This Day
io9‘s list of ruined cities is not only fascinating but also a great way to awaken your inner Indiana Jones. (Like your inner Indiana Jones was ever asleep.)

Medieval & Renaissance Cartographic Sea Monsters
BibliOdyssey’s great post exploring the subject of monsters on old maps. It includes some great high-resolution scans of the creatures: Renaissance-style dolphins with strange ducks bills, horned whales devouring ships, even the elusive marine chicken.

Lovecraft Story of the Year:

Unda; or, The Bride of the Sea
I was feeling a bit nautical when I selected this poem, apparently you all were as well. Out of all the “Lovecraft Story of the Week” it generated the most interest.

Farewell Gif of the Year:

Good ol' Ford

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K. M. header image

About K.M. Alexander

Short Bio:

K. M. Alexander is a Pacific Northwest native and novelist living and working in Seattle. His work explores non-traditional settings within speculative fiction, bending and blending genres to create rich worlds and unique approachable characters.

His first novel The Stars Were Right—a cosmic horror soaked urban fantasy—arrived in late 2013. Since then he’s published three more books in his Bell Forging Cycle, the sequel Old Broken Road in 2014, and the third book Red Litten World in 2015, and Gleam Upon the Waves in 2021.

K. M. is available for speaking engagements, interviews, and appearances.


Contact Info:

Email: hello@kmalexander.com
Questions? Comments? Feedback? Send them here. I try to respond to every email I get.

Address: P.O. Box 28805 Seattle, WA 98118
If you prefer the older form of communication, feel free to reach out to me via my mailing address. Due to the nature of snail mail, and the fact I only check my P.O. Box a few times a year, please expect delayed response.

Twitter: @KM_Alexander
I don’t post as often on Twitter as I used to. But I still maintain a presence, it’s also a handy way to stay on top of my blog. I share posts there as well as here.

Goodreads: KMAlexander
Meet other readers. Rate my novels. See what I am reading. Connect with me.

Pinterest: KMAlexander
My inspiration boards for my various projects.

Tumblr: kmalexander.tumblr.com
My mood board. Whatever I find visually striking goes here. I also drop hints about whatever I am writing at the time.

Instagram: @kmalexander
Photos from my phone wherever I am at the time. (Lots of dog pictures.)


Selected Interviews & Articles:

2021 — My Self Published Fantasy Month Interview

Where I discuss my choices for going indie, recommend some favorites, and describe a tavern in Lovat—The Marsh Bed—that I now consider canon.

2021 — Indie Pub Podcast Episode 10

I return to the pub to discuss maps, map making, and all things fantasy cartography while sipping on grog—the Royal Navy’s 18th century answer to boredom and scurvy.


2021 — Indie Pub Podcast Episode 1

Wherein J. Rushing and I discuss the ins and out of adapting a mythos while sipping on a cocktail of our own creation: The Pallid Mask.


2018 — My SPFBO 4 Interview

Fellow author Michael R. Baker interviewed me as part of SPFBO 4. We discuss my current projects, the advice I have for other writers, inspiration, and a whole lot more.


2018 — What if your book is the child of two genres?

Wherein I and several other authors discuss what it is like to work within cross-genre fictions, how the market perceives those work, and our inspiration.


2017 — K. M. Alexander goes all Lovecraftian

In which I discuss the Bell Forging Cycle, books and authors who inspire me, my style and process, and what I’m working on next.


2017 — Brews & Interviews – Seattle Author K.M. Alexander

In which I join Matt and Cat of Horror Brew to discuss genre-bending and The Bell Forging Cycle, weird west, and all things horror.


2017 — Author K. M. Alexander on Creativity

In this quick little interview filmed at Lilac City Comicon 2017, Shad Engkilterra of Penguinate asks me about creativity. We discuss what it is, my own creative process, and how one can become more creative.


2017 — Lessons from the Shadows & Interview

In which H.M. Jones invites me to write a guest post and I reflected on the lessons I’ve learned after writing three books in The Bell Forging Cycle. We also talk shop, my inspirations for Lovat, influences, and more.


2016 — Zealot Script’s Feature Friday

In which I get personal about my work, discuss what books would I love to live inside, and what inspired me to start writing novels in the first place.


2016 — Indie Author: 10 Quick Questions

In which fellow author G. R. Matthews ask me ten questions about the craft. We talk inspiration, the difficulty of indie publishing, and I pick my three desert island books.


2016 — Life in the Weird: On the Blending of Genre

I never decided to write a genre-blending novel, it just happened. In this article for Fantasy Book Critic, I discuss some of the concepts I kept in mind while I wrote the books in The Bell Forging Cycle.


2015 — Guest Geeks: K.M. Alexander – Cthulhu The Wimp

I was invited by fellow Seattle author Michael G. Munz to write a nerd-centered article for his blog. Naturally, I chose to write about Lovecraftian horror, specifically Cthulhu himself. In this article, I ask the question: Cthulhu, unimaginable terror, or just a big wimp?


2015 — Seattle Geekly Podcast

In which Shannon Flowers, Matt Hammond, and I discuss The Bell Forging Cycle, the Territories, Lovecraftian mythos, Mansions of Madness, books, video games, roleplaying, and more!


2015 — Wordslingers: An Interview With K.M. Alexander

In which S. Lee Benedict and I talk about The Bell Forging Cycle, world-building, H. P. Lovecraft, writing strategies, living in the Pacific Northwest, and my long-term plans. It’s one of my favorite interviews.


2014 — Interview with Wendy VanCamp

In which Wendy and I talk about The Stars Were Right, my influences, my advice for writing, and cover design.


2014 — Dungeon Crawler Radio Podcast

In which Revan, Joe, Drew, and I discuss Old Broken Road, The Stars Were Right, Lovecraft, my inspiration, music, and I hint at an upcoming project.


2014 — Interview with Thomas Fowler

In which Thomas and I speak about Old Broken Road, advertising, design, book marketing, and indie publishing.


2014 — Interview with Jim Pyre

In which Jim and I discuss, everything from what I am working on, books I like to read, and cat hats.


2013 — Interview with Lauren Sapala

In which Lauren and I talk about blogging, my self-publishing journey, book cover design, being web-savvy, and even genre decisions for indie publishing.


Selected Reviews

2019 — ZACKARY J. PIKE review of The Stars Were Right

“If you ever read Kill 6 Billion Demons and thought it would be neat with more Mythos and Average Joes, you should absolutely check this one out.”

2018BOOKNEST.EU review of The Stars Were Right

“…it’s all tied together with fluid prose, and some turns of phrase that had me grinning at the page.”

2017 — ZEALOT SCRIPT review of The Stars Were Right

“Alexander paints a beautiful world for his readers and delivers a story that is utterly gripping.”

2015 — CANDACE’S BOOK BLOG on The Stars Were Right

“Nothing about this book is ‘normal’ which is one of my favorite things about it!”

2015 — TRUTH ABOUT BOOKS on The Stars Were Right

“I read straight through the night and couldn’t put it down. Mr. Alexander is a wizard at creating a world one could only dream about.”

2015 — THE DUNWICH REVIEW on The Stars Were Right

“The Stars Were Right is a great effort for a first book. Author K.M. Alexander creates a vivid and complex fantasy world with likeable characters.”

2015 — BLACK HEART MAGAZINE on Old Broken Road

[In Old Broken Road] “He stays true to the strange world he has created, full of various species, languages, religions, and its unique blend of ancient troubles and modern conflicts.”

2014 — SEATTLE GEEKLY on The Stars Were Right

“The Stars Were Right is a very good read for fans of Lovecraftian fiction, post-apocalyptic fiction or just non-standard murder mysteries.”

2013 — BLACK HEART MAGAZINE on The Stars Were Right

“Part thriller, part urban fantasy, The Stars Were Right is a wild tour through a wild city.”


Headshots

K. M. Alexander Reading Headshot

Click on any of the images to download.


Book Cover Images

Cover for The Stars Were Right, Book I in the Bell Forging Cycle
Cover for Old Broken Road, Book II in the Bell Forging Cycle
Cover for Red Litten World, Book III in the Bell Forging Cycle
Cover for Gleam Upon the Waves, Book IV in the Bell Forging Cycle

Click on any of the images to download.