A not so snazzy title there, but to the point. Ok. So, I should really start this by saying I am an analog sort of person. If I can do it with paper, pen, and no tech… that’s usually my inclination. To date I still don’t have a Twitter, I think I Facebook about at the same rate as blue moons, and what even is an Instagram? I’m a terrible millennial. However, recently InDesign has completely won me over in keeping my maps up to date. As has Scrivener, but that is inevitably another post.
My initial maps are basically wobbly penciled in shapes I threw on a piece of paper to get me started. If I am feeling really fancy, I might throw in a river and mountain range early on. But I tend to fill in as I write the story, rather than coming up with a mostly realized geography right off the bat. Which means I have about a billion various versions floating around my desk in a sort of miasma of geographical thought. It’s a bit uncontrollable.
Once I really get into a story I break out the post-it notes. Which means my now giant piece of paper is covered in tiny cramped notes about terrain, history, and plot. This also means everything about my world is literally one wayward breeze from falling off. Not even taking the cats that I live with who see sketched on paper as luxurious beds into account, this is a terrible plan.
Enter my savior: InDesign.
Since I don’t think words will be enough here, let’s make a map together!
First step: Continents, or islands, or whatever land mass you are using! Personally, I love being able to draw them on a touchscreen, but mouse or trackpad work just as well. Draw as many amorphous blobs as you like.
MAKE A NEW LAYER. Lock your continents so you’re not moving your blobs around. Now, I like to give myself some defining features. Feel free to use whatever iconography you like for these. Where would rivers be? What sort of mountain ranges are there? Any major lakes? Deserts? These questions help define where cities and towns would appear. A port city at the mouth of a river will help with trade. Mountains might define country borders. Culture is affected by geography. Once you have an acceptable layer of geography, lock that layer. You can always come back to add a swamp, cave system, volcano, etc.
MAKE A NEW LAYER. I CANNOT STRESS THIS ENOUGH. Being able to move towns around while not accidentally moving an entire mountain range is basically priceless. Next, I like to sketch in any cities or boundary lines I have in mind already.
GUESS WHAT? NEW LAYER. I like to have a plot point layer, which I can turn off and on. This layer lets me know where the cannibal dragons live, or the selkie pirates have crashed, or where the swamp of doom is. (For the love of your narrative, if you have anything named “of doom” reevaluate that. Or don’t. You do you.)
MAKE AS MANY LAYERS AS YOU WANT. I like to add one that is devoted to the traveling paths of my character groups. Or one that is just political boundaries. Or another that is just for more notes. Since you can toggle layers off and on, your map can be as cluttered or as pristine as you like it at any given moment. It gets to the point where my layers menu looks something like this:
There we are. Although it’s not pretty and far from perfect, have a slightly more functional map system for some of your writerly needs. Side note: My cats disapprove of the lack of paper now strewn across my desk. Anger your cats at you own peril. I’m not responsible for that.