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Mapping a fantasy realm for a novel

Most of the maps I design for books are of real places and are based on geospatial data. I download data for cities, countries, roads, etc., for the area of interest, and then start editing and styling. But every once in a while a different type of project crosses my path.

M.K. MacLean is the author of a fantasy novel series which originated as an elaborate backstory for a gaming character. She envisioned a world for the novels and created maps in Inkarnate (a tool to create fantasy maps online) but wasn't happy with those maps. So she decided to commission custom maps for her next book.

Megan sent me screenshots of the maps she created online. You can see the styles that are possible with Inkarnate, so it's a great tool.

fantasy map of Yunali designed by M.K. MacLean on Inkarnatefantasy map of Thornvale designed by M.K. MacLean on Inkarnate

But Megan wanted greyscale maps with a more Tolkien look to them. So I started with the world map of Yunali, by tracing the map that she'd created. I added a few mountains and some water lines and sent two style options.

style option 1 for greyscale map of fantasy realm of Yunali; continent outlines, water lines, and mountainsstyle option 2 for greyscale map of fantasy realm of Yunali; continent outlines, water lines with grey ocean, and mountains

Once we had a basic style established, I designed the map of Thorn Vale, a small part of Yunali. Instead of tracing the map Megan designed for that area, I enlarged that part of the world map and added more details. I made sure that the rivers started in the mountains, lakes had inlets and outlets, and the rivers branched off and ran to the sea.

draft 1 of Thorn Vale area, zoomed in section of fantasy realm of Yunali; continent outlines, water lines with grey ocean, rivers, mountains, trees, roads, orchards, villages

It took a couple of drafts to get the right look: more of a sketched style for the roads, a lot more trees, mountains, and swampy areas, and different label styles.

fantasy map of Thorn Vale, part of fantasy realm of Yunali in books by M.K. MacLean; continent outlines, water lines with grey ocean, rivers, mountains, trees, roads, orchards, villages

For the final version of the Yunali map, I added some rocky areas off the coast of Thorn Vale, which posed a navigation hazard in her book and were important to show.

Map of fantasy realm of Yunali in books by M.K. MacLean; continent outlines, water lines with grey ocean, rivers, mountains, trees, roads, orchards, villages

Megan's first book is available on Amazon. The second and third book of the trilogy are coming soon. Keep an eye on Megan's website for updates.

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