Creating a Fantasy World Map: Scientific Laws to Remember

Updated on April 13, 2020
Al Stine profile image

Al enjoys creating fantasy maps and studied cartography and geographic information systems.

Source

One of the fundamentals of writing a fantasy story is creating a realistic fantasy world map that will accommodate your story. In order to achieve this, there are some basic scientific laws that have to be followed.

A fantasy story has no defined imaginative limits with regards to how farfetched the story can be. The world that accommodates the story is, however, defined by some real physical and scientific laws that influence the types of character species, landforms, climate, weather, geopolitics, and biodiversity.

It is easy to ignore the scientific elements of a fantasy world on account that the story is based on fictional and made-up characters. It is also important to remember that a fantasy story is born from the imagination of the writer; however, the reader does not share that image. It is the task of the writer to create a realistic world that will enable the reader to relate to the events of the story. One way to achieve this is by introducing and adhering to some real and fundamental scientific laws.

Source

Basic Science of a Fantasy World

When creating a fantasy world map, the first thing that you have to consider is the terrain. Terrain refers to the horizontal and vertical natural physical features on the map.

Vertical Features

  • Mountains
  • Slopes
  • Hills
  • Volcanoes

Horizontal Features

  • Rivers
  • Lakes
  • Forests
  • Deserts
  • Swamps

The terrains or landforms will determine the type of climate and weather that will encompass that fantasy world. The terrain will also influence biodiversity, nature, and types of character species in that world, thereby influencing the culture and geopolitics of that fantasy world.

Creating Terrains or Landforms

Geomorphology and topology are two important sciences that define how landforms features of the map are created and how they appear.

Geomorphology is the science that studies the formation of terrains. It involves all processes that are engaged in the creation of all the landforms that we see today. The topography of the map defines how features of land surfaces appear on a map.

When creating a fantasy world map, it is not necessary to study geomorphology and topography, but it is important to at least know the basics of land formation and how they are supposed to appear on a map. Different terrain types are formed by different processes, knowing some basic processes will aid in knowing where to put a type of terrain on the fantasy world map.

Continents, Countries, and Islands

Several scientific theories exist with regards to the creation of continents, most prominent is the continental drift theory and the movement of plate tectonics. The underlining point of the two theories is that continents are constantly moving landforms, and at some point, they were either connected and have the potential to connect in the future.

When creating fantasy map continents, it is important to remember that continents should appear as though they were connected at some point and can connect in the future. Construct the fantasy map in a puzzle format—each continent is a piece of the puzzle, and the space between the two pieces is the ocean. Vary the size of the pieces to reflect the different sizes of continents and vary the distance between the pieces to reflect the different sizes of oceans.

Source

To test the theory, try to create a fantasy world map by drawing random regular or irregular shapes on a piece of paper. The aesthetics of the map will obviously feel and look out of place, very few people will be able to consider the shapes as continents. On the second drawing, try to draw a circle, divide the circle into five irregular shapes, then draw those shapes separate but in close proximity to each other on another paper. The second drawing will most likely look like a continental map.

If you look at the world map, it almost looks like a puzzle waiting for someone to complete it. A fantasy world, even though fictional, should also carry that aesthetic appearance in order to be considered realistic. Start by creating it as one continent, then based on preferences break it into smaller continents by spreading oceans between them.

A fantasy world with continents still clustered together.
A fantasy world with continents still clustered together. | Source

Mountains, Slopes, Hills, Canyons, Valleys, and Volcanoes

The constant movement of plate tectonics, which is responsible for the formation of continents, is also responsible for the formation of mountains. When two opposing plate tectonics collide, their edges crumble, forming fold mountains like the Himalayas, Andes, Rockies, Alps, and Mount Everest. If they grind over each other, causing one plate to tilt upwards over the other, they form a fault-block mountain range like the Sierra Nevada mountain range in Califonia, Tetons in Wyoming, and Hars mountains in Germany.

However, when one plate is pushed below the other, thereby pushing magma to the surface, volcanic mountains like mount Fuji and St Helens are formed. Other mountains are formed from erosion from rivers and streams surrounding a high plateau area.

Click thumbnail to view full-size
The Alps
The Alps
The Alps | Source
Source
Source
Source
Source

When creating mountains, slopes, hills, and volcanoes on a fantasy map, it is important to map out the location where the mountain forming plate tectonics are colliding. The mapped out locations are where the mountains, slopes, hills, or volcanoes will be placed. It is important to avoid randomly adding mountains and hills all over the map.

Source

Rivers, Lakes, Waterfalls, Oceans, and Seas

Oceans are the easiest features to represent on a fantasy map because, in most cases, they represent the endless edges of that world. Rivers, lakes, seas, waterfalls, and other water bodies usually require a defined source and endpoint. The easiest endpoints for rivers are usually oceans or lakes. The source of the river differs; most rivers start from elevated areas like hills and mountains, others from springs, lakes, and bogs.

Click thumbnail to view full-size
RiverOceanLakeWaterfall
River
River | Source
Ocean
Ocean | Source
Lake
Lake | Source
Waterfall
Waterfall | Source
Source

In a fantasy world map, it is important to remember that rivers always flow downstream; therefore, the elevated areas where mountains and hills have been placed are most likely where the river should start. A river should not cross an elevated area like a mountain range; it should rather flow on the sides. The presence of a waterfall also signifies a downward change in terrain elevation.

The endpoint of a river is also important; a river will not just disappear into the ground. Most likely, it will end up in another water body like an ocean, sea, or lake. Where the river starts on a fantasy map will be considered a highland and where the river ends will be considered a lowland. It is important to avoid placing elements associated with lowlands such as open grasslands at the source of the river.

Clearly representing the sources and endpoints of a river on a map is important; otherwise, they might appear as random blue lines on a fantasy map.

Location and movement of rivers, lakes and ocean.
Location and movement of rivers, lakes and ocean. | Source

Forests, Swamps, Deserts, Rocks, Snow, and Grasslands

Forests, swamps, deserts, snow, grasslands, and other terrain features on a fantasy map are referred to as groundcover. The type of groundcover of an area is influenced by terrain altitude, water, soil, climate, and weather.

When placing groundcover on a map, it has to correspond to the type of landscape of the map. A forest and a swamp should indicate the presence of a water body nearby, either a river, lake, sea, ocean, or some groundwater. When drawing water-dependent groundcovers, it is important that a water body like a river or lake is also drawn in close proximity. These areas also signify a climate with a consistent rainy season. They usually occupy the lower elevated areas of the map and have the highest number of plant and animal species.

Click thumbnail to view full-size
ForestDesertSnowGrasslandsSwamp
Forest
Forest | Source
Desert
Desert | Source
Snow
Snow | Source
Grasslands
Grasslands | Source
Source
Swamp
Swamp | Source

The groundcover for high elevated areas also varies depending on the climate and presence of water bodies. They are usually associated with rocky and mountainous areas, cold and hot deserts, areas covered in snow, and some woodland forests.

High elevated rocky, snow-covered areas and cold deserts will most likely occupy the highest points on a fantasy map, and their climates are expected to be colder than the rest of the areas on the map. These areas are usually isolated, with a low number of plant and animal species present.

Source

The topography of groundcover varies depending on the person creating the map. Green is usually used to represent vegetation and water-rich areas of the map. Brown is used to represent dry areas of the map, and white is usually used to represent snow-covered areas of the map.

When transitioning from one type of groundcover to the next, the transition has to be gradual; it is impossible to transition from snow to desert. Therefore, when bordering the areas, they should be bordered with a realistic bordering groundcover type. A forest region most likely might be bordered with a swamp, bog, or grassland. A desert most likely should be bordered with a mountainous and rocky region before reaching the snow-covered areas.

Climate and Weather Patterns

There are a number of elements that contribute to the climate and weather of a particular region; most important are atmospheric pressure, temperature, heat from the sun, wind, precipitation, and humidity. Other factors that influence climate and weather are; latitude and altitude, distance to the ocean, and movement of wind in mountain ranges.

When creating climate and weather patterns on a fantasy map, it is not necessary to calculate temperatures, humidity, atmospheric pressures, latitudes, and other elements. The easiest way is to identify two extreme points on the map, one should be the coldest part, and the other should be the hottest part of the map. The coldest parts are usually high altitude mountainous areas of the map covered in snow. The hottest parts are usually lowland areas, covered in vegetation, but can sometimes have high altitude rocky mountainous regions and dry desert areas. The extreme cold parts will have snow, the cool and warm middle areas will have rainfall and vegetation, and the extremely hot, dry areas will have rocky mountains, deserts, and excess heat from the sun.

When characters are transitioning from one type of terrain to the other, a difference in weather and climate should also be noted. Even in a fantasy world, a character experiencing a desert storm is most likely in a desert region.

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Source
Source
Source
Source
Source

Biodiversity of Plant and Animal Species

Biodiversity of plant and animal species is where most people creating a fantasy story or world would rather start from. The limitless nature of imagination that can be put into coming up with different human-like animal and plant species is so appealing that most stories start without explaining the nature of most species, explanations are usually drafted in later. However, animal and plant species in a fantasy or real-world are affected and influenced by their immediate surrounding environment.

The colors and appearance of animal species are usually designed to blend in and adapt to their surrounding environment. The skin coating acts as camouflage to hide them from either predators or prey. The skin coating is also a temperature regulating blanket that enables them to handle hot or cold temperatures. Animals species that occupy cold, snow-covered areas usually have thick fur that acts like a warm blanket. Species that occupy dry desert regions usually have lighter coating fur or reptilian scale coats. The species also possess morphological features that enable them to survive their surrounding environment.

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Source
Source
Source
Source
Source
Source

When creating species for a fantasy story world, it is important to put them in their correct environment. The structure and appearance of the animal or plant species should be able to correspond to its environment. A flying white bear-like animal monster should most likely be encountered in the snow-covered areas of the map. A brown reptilian lizard looking monster should originate from hot desert regions. Even the real-world mythological monsters usually correspond to their immediate environment. Stories of the white color coated Abominable Snowman and Yetis are popular in snow-covered areas. Stories of dark fur covered Bigfoot and Werewolfs are popular in forest-covered areas. Aquatic fish-like monsters such as Mermaids and the Lochness monster are common in places closer to water bodies.

Plant species should also correspond to their environments. Cactus looking plants should be found in the desert areas of the map. Woody forest-like and leafy plants should occupy water-rich areas. A speaking wise giant tree should be found deep in the forest. A moving snakelike cactus plant should be found in the hot, dry desert areas of the map.

Geopolitics, Conflicts, Religions, Traditions, and Cultures of the Map

Geopolitics is basically how human species interactions are influenced by geographical factors such as boundaries, borders, and natural resources. Traditions, customs, conflicts, religions, and cultures are also influenced by geopolitics. The first law of spatial geography states that—"everything is related to everything else, but near things are more related than distant things."

When creating a fantasy map, it is important to understand some basic and likely geopolitics that will arise, even before writing the story. Two bordering lands will either be allied to each other or hostile neighbors. The two lands will either share resources or compete for resources. They will most likely share common characteristics in terms of their origins, appearance, traditions, religions, and customs.

"Everything is related to everything else, but near things are more related than distant things"

— Tobler's First Law of Geography
Click thumbnail to view full-size
Source
Source
Source
Source
Source
Source
Source

The appearance of human-like species should also reflect their environment. Species from hot and dry areas of the map will most likely be more tan compared to species from snow-covered areas with less exposure to heat from the sun. Their traditions, religions, and customs should also be a reflection of their environment. Species that worship the sun should come from areas exposed to the sun. Species that harness magic from river monsters should reside on the river banks. Species that are good at herbal medicine should most likely originate from the forest areas of the map.

The differences and relationships between species that are not in close proximity should also be notable. The unfamiliarity should be able to attract a certain level of curiosity, suspicion, and in some cases, prejudice. Even when alliances and conflicts are formed in the story, the geographical locations should be able to explain certain factors affecting the decisions that are made.

Final Notes

Creating a fantasy story or world is a very liberating and adventurous feeling, there are no defined limits or boundaries with regards to how far you can stretch your imagination. When you observe a child playing make-believe in the backyard garden, it takes a few seconds before the child can acknowledge your presence.

If you have watched or read a fantasy novel or movie, the feeling is not any different from the joy experienced by a child lost in a world of make-believe. A fantasy world is aesthetically appealing to look at, and most people enjoy that. For some people, however, the constant questioning of reality by the brain causes a feeling of nausea and dizziness. If you have watched a 3-hour-long fantasy movie, there is always a need to adjust to reality after the end credits before you can act like a normal human being again.

When creating a fantasy world for a story, it is up to the writer to create a good balance between reality and imagination with regard to the aesthetic appearance of the world; otherwise, the story and the world may become too confusing for the reader. To achieve this, the writer can sprinkle a little bit of real-life science in the pool of endless imagination.

© 2020 AL

Comment Your Favorite Fantasy Novel, Book, Movie or Animation?

    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment
    • Al Stine profile imageAUTHOR

      AL 

      4 months ago from South Equator, East Pacific

      Thanks, Pam. I'll be expecting a fantasy map from yours truly.

    • Pamela99 profile image

      Pamela Oglesby 

      4 months ago from Sunny Florida

      This is certainly a very well-writen, thorough article about ceating a fantasy map. I learned a lot reading this article.

    • Al Stine profile imageAUTHOR

      AL 

      4 months ago from South Equator, East Pacific

      Appreciate the feedback LJ Milan, always something new to learn, I am also trying to get more information on the subject, the internet happens to be a good resource tool.

    • Overlordsays profile image

      LJ Milan 

      4 months ago from Novi Sad, Serbia

      I knew a lot about this subject, but I also learned a lot. Thank you for all the help.

    working

    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, hobbylark.com uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at: https://maven.io/company/pages/privacy

    Show Details
    Necessary
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the googleapis.com or gstatic.com domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Features
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Marketing
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Statistics
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)
    ClickscoThis is a data management platform studying reader behavior (Privacy Policy)