Creating Maps for Novels: Challenges and Solutions

Milardus maps

I like making maps. The first thing I usually do when beginning a project, long before I start writing, is to make a map (or several). It might not be a continent-sized creation. It might just be the floor plans where the main scenes are set. Or an adaptation of an existing map. For instance, on one recent project I adapted the street map for a place but set in 2070.

Maps help ground my work, so I know where everything is. They also allow me to work out how long it takes to travel between places. Or where characters are born and raised and how that affects their world view. However, drawing up a map for readers, well that’s a whole different kettle of fish. I find that incredibly difficult.

Maps for Readers

I can’t just provide the maps I work from. Most times they’re not in the correct format. It’s rare that I actually output my maps, because I’m always tinkering with them. Plus, they usually contain information that I don’t want the reader to know about. And they’re nearly all too cluttered, with information about troop movements, secret lairs, or unusual places – that might be used in a future story.

Reader maps need to clearly provide all the necessary information in a simple format, that’s easy to find and follow. For online novels, like Coils of the Serpent, that should appear to be pretty straightforward. You just create a map, and upload it and that’s it. Right?

Online Maps

A map of Milardus

Not really. Only one of the main web novel sites actually provides the tools to include a map in your work. Even then, it’s kept as an entity separate from your novel. It’s provided as a link in the glossary. Most readers won’t even notice it. It’s a barrier.

For the other sites (those that allow it), the best you can do is to upload an image to a page. However, the result is usually too small to be useful. Providing an enlarged version that the reader can actually use is, let’s say, problematic. It requires some HTML coding (which might be beyond some writers). Another barrier. A writer could provide their map on a third party site (like a blog page – or whatever), but once again that becomes a barrier to readers accessing it. That’s why there’s no map for Coils of the Serpent. I made one, but removed it because it was a distraction.

Physical Books

Making a map for a physical book (or an e-book) is even harder. There’s no facility to zoom in with the physical book, and large-scale maps require a lot of space. An important consideration when publishing e-books. So you must be very precise in what you include.

The Tolkien maps are considered the gold standard, when it comes to book maps. In some cases, I agree, but not all. I particularly like the map of The Shire in The Fellowship of the Ring. I also like the map in The Hobbit. However, I feel that the world map in Lord of the Rings contains too much unnecessary information.

Yes, we need to know what the overall world looks like, but there’s just too much detail. I think Tolkien would have been better served including less detail in the large map, and then including several maps of smaller regions with far more detail. But who am I to question The Master?

In any case, I think creating maps for books is far more difficult than most imagine. It’s a very delicate balance. I admit, it’s not one I feel I have mastered, despite over forty years of map-making experience.


I’m skribe. I’m a writer, a film-maker and an actor. While I’m originally from Perth, Australia, I currently reside on a tropical island, the Lion City of Singapore. Fingerprint: 79A1 DC6C D367 8A31 135A 7AFA 940E 4231 D7B9 B15C If you like what you see buy me a coffee.

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1 Response

  1. 2024-06-24

    […] I mentioned in yesterday’s post, I love making maps. I make a lot of them. Some are continental-sized, some regional, city or […]