A Tale of Two Maps — Part I

It was the east of times, it was the west of times…

“Lake Province” — A PK Merlott Original

The best thing about writing Fantasy is that you get to include a map. You don’t find a lot of maps in other genres. There is no map in Pregnant By My Boss, for example (though there SHOULD be).

I know, some people think maps are cheating. Like this guy:

Related image
Tweedy VonCritic – Professional Strawman

“Your readers shouldn’t need a map if your story is told well,” he would say. And he’s RIGHT. But he’s also sweaty and dumb.

The truth is, your reader doesn’t need a map for your story — They need it for theirs. They need to let their own imaginations wander about your world, to ask “What the hell goes on in that place?”

With two installments of The Nameless Day coming closer to reality, I desperately wanted a map that I could get lost in. Sure, I could worry about that when it was time to publish, but I’ve never thought of publication as the point of writing. And if publication isn’t the point, then why wait?

I found Tom Parker on Twitter a couple of years ago, and instantly connected to his artistic sensibility. He draws living places (literally, they’re often on the backs of big animals), and conveys emotion and scene with an economy of ink that immediately reminded me of Dave Trampier’s D&D stuff.

Tom Parker’s “Nautilus Romanus” belongs in the Met

Among other things, Tom is the map-maker for RJ Barker’s fantasy novels (The Bone Ships, Age of Assassins). Fortunately, at the time, his star in the literary map-making world was still ascendant, and I was able to commission two maps at an affordable (read: exploitative) price.

We began work on “Lake Province”, where the first two Nameless Day installments take place. The region is inspired by the Quebec Laurentides, a rolling wilderness with glacial lakes, breathtaking summers and harsh winters.

I sent Tom a rough sketch (see above), and entirely too much text — passages, poems, a world “bible”. He read it all, asked brilliant questions, and got to work sketching. Soon, there was this:


Then this:

PK map full sample.jpg


pk flat show_edited-1.jpg

And finally: This:

Which now hangs on my wall, over my writing space, like this:

LP Hanging.jpg

I could go on for days about the collaborative process but it basically went as follows:

PK: Make my mountains spooky



I can’t say enough about how fun this was, watching a part of my world come to life exactly as I imagined it, and in many cases better than I imagined it. But I can sum up the experience in two valuable lessons:

1. Have a Point of View

Your map is a story, so tell it like one. Decide who, in your world, would be “telling” this map. What do they think is important? Who are their friends? Who are their enemies? What are their aspirations for the nations and peoples living in the borders of their map. Once you figure out who is making the map, all the artistic decisions become a lot easier. Which brings us to the second lesson:

2. Let the Art Happen

As fantasy authors, we’re all proud of our ideas, our stories, and our worlds. It’s easy to get precious about the details. These hills wouldn’t be here, this lake is too wide… where should we put the roads?

But fantasy maps are, first and foremost, art. They should be eye-catching, emotional, visually immersive experiences, not engineering documents. If your descriptions are good, you’ve thought out your map’s POV, and you have a talented artist in your corner, something gorgeous will happen.

Which brings us to Part II… The World Map!

One thought on “A Tale of Two Maps — Part I”

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