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World Building in Fantasy Fiction – Why You Need a Map

I instantly fall in love when I pick up a new fantasy book and there’s a map at the front. Chances are I’ll buy it, too! Why? Because it tells me that the author has put a lot of effort into their world, and that I won’t get lost when the characters move between towns and countries.

Investing in a map is something every author needs to consider. A map adds so much value to your book, and it will reflect well in reviews. New authors, especially indie authors who don’t have the wisdom of agents and publishers at their disposal, often either don’t consider it or they choose not to include one. While it costs money to have it designed professionally it’s money very well spent, and – compared to other costs of self-publishing – it doesn’t empty your bank account, either.

But what makes it so worthwhile?

If your story takes place in London, for example, your readers will either already be familiar with the city or they can easily google it. But a place you invented? Even the internet can’t help with that! It’s all well and good telling your readers that Joe just walked the length of the Bloodlake river to get from White River Camp to Starwatch, but really that tells your readers nothing. If they could look it up on a map, however… Problem solved!

If you’ve done any research on writing at all you’ve likely come across the Show, Don’t Tell rule by now. A map does exactly that. Why tell your readers where Joe is off to if you could show them?

For yourself as well as your readers! You’ve put a lot of effort into making your world as realistic and as believable as possible. You know every corner of it – hell, you know it better than your characters do! But believe me, holding a map of the world you created in your hands makes it even more real. Real places have maps. Real cities and countries have maps. Your world should have one, too.

It’s a sign that you know what you’re doing. It makes them confident that they’ve done the right thing buying your book instead of someone else’s. World building is such a vital part of writing fantasy and sci-fi, and adding a map to your book shows your readers that you’ve done more than the bare minimum. It’s proof that you’ve invested a lot of time not just into your characters, but your world, too. This is important because, while your characters need to be the highlight of your plot, the world they travel still needs to be interesting and exciting. When your readers see a map at the front of your book they know that your characters won’t just go from A to B, but that they’ll move through an intriguing world with secrets to discover and shadows to hide in.

While they may not mention the lack of a map in their review, they will almost definitely mention the existence of one. I’ve seen so many reviews where a professionally finished map was a highlight, and helped the reader find their way in a fictional place. Also, while they may not bring up that there wasn’t a map, it may still influence their overall rating. It’s frustrating to read a book of a world someone else dreamed up, leaf back to the front to see where your characters are off to, only to be reminded that there’s nothing there to help you visualise it.

An example: Last year I finished a long series. Over the course of the many books, the MC has gone to various different places and the first book included a map to show his world. When he travelled to a new region several books in, a new map was included to show that, too. However, in the last four books he went to yet another new region, but no map came with it. It was disappointing for me that I wasn’t able to see where this region was in relation to the other two, and that I couldn’t get a good sense of scale.

I love maps in my books – most bookworms do! (There are hashtags on Instagram dedicated to #mappedbooks for a reason) They are insanely pretty to look at, and I’ll always spend some time studying the map before I start reading. It lets you gain a small sense of familiarity before you begin reading, and it’s so much fun to explore the valleys and mountain ranges, and wonder where a character you haven’t even met yet might go and why!

Do you like maps in books, or don’t you pay any attention to them? Which fictional map is your favourite? Grab a cookie and a tea, and let’s chat!

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Published inA Writer's Musings


  1. Maps are often a highlight of a book, especially high fantasy ones! Rise of the Sparrows has such a brilliant one! <3

    • sarinalangerwriter sarinalangerwriter

      Thank you, Faith, I couldn’t agree more! ^-^ I’m excited for the new, bigger map to make its way into the sequel’s manuscript <3

  2. Please correct me if I’m wrong, but it sounds like you’re not talking about all fantasy, but high fantasy in particular. After all, the maps you seem to be referring to have rural components rather than urban ones. Could you elaborate on this difference?

    • sarinalangerwriter sarinalangerwriter

      Urban maps are just as important, of course 🙂 Sometimes the map of one specific city or building is far more important to the story than that of a whole country. I’ve got books on my shelf which have both!

      • Can you give me some examples of the city/building ones? I feel like I’ve never seen one before, but that might just be because I don’t pay attention to maps as a reader. (Or because they’re the minority in uf.)

        • sarinalangerwriter sarinalangerwriter

          Sure! I haven’t seen too many myself so my own experience is limited, but Six of Crows has a map of the Ice Court as well as of the country, and I believe Nevernight has an urban map as well. I haven’t read the latter yet, mind you.

          • That’s interesting -strokes imaginary beard- I have a feeling there’s a genre difference then.

          • sarinalangerwriter sarinalangerwriter

            That seems possible. I’ll need to read more books of other genres with maps for confirmation! <3

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