Monday, February 13, 2012

Notes on Mapmaking (Taken from Isaac Stewart at LTUE 2012)

As you know, I had the pleasure of going to LTUE this last weekend (and added Mary Robinette Kowal and David Farland's signatures to the back of my Kindle). At the convention, I also met Isaac Stewart, the man who draws the maps (and other illustrations) for Sanderson's--and many other authors'--books.

Case and point:

Map from THE WAY OF KINGS by Brandon Sanderson
I'd seen Isaac twice before, when I bought The Way of Kings and The Alloy of Law, since he attended the signing with Brandon. Isaac did a panel Thursday evening on mapmaking--a panel I almost didn't attend due to a headache, but I'm so glad I did! His had to be the most interesting panel of the convention. And, since world building is often the first step of writing fantasy/sci-fi novels, it applies more to us writerly-but-not-artistly folks than we think. That being said, I thought I'd share a few of the notes I scribbled into the back of my CoT composition book.

1. Make the coastlines.
2. Determine your high ground and your low ground, including mountains. There are several types of mountains:

  • Volcanic
  • Fault-block
  • Complex/folded
  • Erosional
  • Upward

3. Add rivers, lakes, and other bodies of water. Remember that water will always take the path of least resistance, and flows from high ground to low ground (I had never considered this--all my rivers always connected to an ocean, but they can start on mountain peaks as well. So good to know!)

  • Lakes have many inlets, but only one outlet
  • Rivers "fork" where two rivers merge into one
  • Also consider floodplains and rain shadows 

4. Add cities. Cities are always near a water source. Isaac also mentioned that fewer people usually means cities will be farther apart.

Other notes:

  • Less technology=more unclaimed land
  • Straight borders are modern

For the full PDF of Isaac's mastermind mapping skills, click here.


  1. Wow! I needed to go to more world-building classes. And on an unrelated note...I'm glad your husband is who he is. Ugh. Am I making it worse? I'm such a freak.

  2. Awesome! I've always wanted to go to that mapmaking presentation. I usually have rotten luck with the panels I choose.

  3. So interesting! I wish I would have been there for that one! There were so many great panels that I missed. But there were also so many great ones that I DID get to see! I <3 LTUE. And I was so glad to meet you! I wish I would've seen you sooner. And found a panel we could go to together and chat during. ;)

  4. Dude, I totally could have just told you all this myself and saved you an hour. And I'm not even a geography major. XP

  5. Thank you for sharing this! I wish I'd been able to make it to LTUE, but it didn't work this year. And I've been thinking a lot about world-building and such....this is perfect! (I'm a new follower :)


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