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World Building in Fantasy Fiction – How Google Maps Can Help You

Writing a book comes with many challenges. You might struggle with character development, with consistency, or with repetitions which seem to sneak into your draft every time you turn around. For me, the greatest pitfall is distance. (You can’t see it but I shuddered just now.)

I’m terrible at knowing how long it takes my characters to get from A to B. Or anywhere. If they leave their house briefly, to visit a friend who lives just down the road, I cope just fine, but longer distances? They are a nightmare. How long would it take someone to cross Country A on horseback? I don’t know. And on foot? *whimpers* But how long would it take to cross that massive ocean you’ve got in the middle? How long do your characters need to get anywhere? A. Bloody. Nightmare!

Fortunately, I’ve got a trick for you! πŸ˜‰ Credit where credit is due – this is something my wonderful cartographer, Glynn from MonkeyBlood Design, told me about when I was whining about not having any idea how far any of the points on my map were from each other. All you need is Google, and a general idea of how large your world is.

First up, you’ll want Google Maps. Find a place that more or less resembles your own map. I’ll use the UK as an example.

One of the many directions I needed to figure out for Rise of the Sparrows was how long it might take Rachael, my MC, to get from her little spiteful village of Blackrock to Aeron’s hut, and then from there to Arlo’s hut. I knew they were pretty close together but lay in opposite directions, so I wanted my real world reference to be similar. Here’s how you do it:

I didn’t make a note of the towns I used, so for the sake of this exercise we’ll pretend your hero is travelling from Oxford to Southampton *ahem*

But how do you get a sense of distance from that? Easy!

First, you select a town or city. Google maps will highlight it – see the red circle around Southampton outlining its borders? – and will show you a brief summary on the left. The only option we’re interested in right now is the Directions button.

Click it, and you will get this screen:

Google Maps has already set whatever town you first selected as your destination. You can now select the town you’ll be travelling from. I chose Oxford. This is what you’ll get:

Google Maps will tell you the quickest route, as well as two alternatives (in case your Fantasy World Hero doesn’t fancy the busy motorway). But, more importantly, you can change how you get there! See the selection at the top left? You can choose whether you’re travelling by car, train, bike, or on foot. We want the latter, so select that and Google Maps will do the rest for you πŸ™‚

How handy is that?

My only complaint is that there isn’t a horseback option. Some heroes have horses, you know? It’d be ever so useful.

And this is how you do it, friends! πŸ™‚

One thing to remember is that, if Google Maps suggests it’ll take your character 36 hours to walk from A to B, it won’t take him exactly 36 hours to walk from A to B. It’s not realistic to walk for this long without needing to sleep or eat! Unless, of course, your character is made of magic and doesn’t need either. And then there’s the occasional bandit skirmish to consider… So please let your hero take breaks, and plan his journey responsibly.

How do you figure out distances for your WIPs? Do you have a technique that works well for you? Is it your nemesis, too? Get yourself a tea and some biscuits, and let’s chat!

Before we all go our separate ways – This was the last post on world building! Here’s a quick recap in case you missed anything:

The Basics

Your World’s History

How to Name Countries, Cities, etc.

Why You Need a Map

If you’ve got any more questions on world building, ask below! πŸ™‚

The next series is all about beta readers. It’ll cover various aspects of being one as well as working with them, so no matter which side you’re standing on, you’ll take something away from it πŸ™‚ The first post will explain how you actually find beta readers. It’s a question I’m asked often, so I figured it’s the perfect topic to start with! πŸ˜‰ Keep an eye out for it on the 11th of April!

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Published inA Writer's Musings


  1. I guess one can take the bicycle option for horseback. Or find out the speed of a bicycle on different terrain and compare it the speed of a horseback ride. And then magic-magic: math! πŸ˜€
    Great idea though for the walking. I wonder if Google Maps takes terrain into account as well, I mean south England is probably quite flat’ish, but it would be different to walk the Scottish highlands. (goes off to experiment :D)

    • sarinalangerwriter sarinalangerwriter

      I did find an option for terrain but I haven’t fiddled with it. Let me know what you find out! πŸ™‚

  2. Really helpful tips. πŸ™‚ I’m looking forward to your beta reader post too πŸ™‚

    • sarinalangerwriter sarinalangerwriter

      Thank you! I hoped this series would be useful πŸ™‚
      If you’re interested in being a beta reader or an advanced reader, I recommend signing up to my newsletter – you’ll hear about it there first πŸ˜‰

  3. This is a really great tip, Sarina & another great entry in your series πŸ™‚

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