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World Building: Build A Map Tools

Should you have a map? Must you have a map? No. It is a very personal decision and largely depends on the genre of your book and whether it is in print, though there are now options for adding images to ebooks. Some people love them, others never glance at them.

Whether you are writing Fantasy, Science Fiction, or even Mystery, building a map of your story world can be fun for you and your readers. It is a fun addition to your website.

You can do it just for yourself for reference when writing your book. I like to draw room plans for choreography purposes, but those aren't included in the finished product.

If you have spent a great deal of time researching or building a story world, the maps can help you avoid continuity errors.

I used a map of Rhodes Greece to plot my character's 30 day journey on Mythikas Island. (Blatant plug, the new ten-year anniversary editions are available!). 

Here is a map from Mystery author Deborah Crombie. I highly recommend her books which are set in London.


https://www.deborahcrombie.com/index.php/the-maps
And from the romantic Fantasy The Princess Bride by William Goldman:


https://www.amazon.com/Princess-Bride-Morgensterns-Classic-Adventure/dp/0156035219
Here is a list of articles with tips for creating maps.

1. How to Create a Map for Your Fantasy World Updated on March 15, 2018 M. T. Dremer

2. How to Make a Custom Map for Your Fantasy World by JANLOOS

3. 10 Rules For Making Better Fantasy Maps by Lauren Davis

4. Generating Fantasy Maps by Martin O'Leary http://mewo2.com/notes/terrain/

5. Creating a Map for Your Fantasy Novel by jademphillips

6. Map Creation for Fictional Worlds by Tina Dubinsky

7. Planet Maker allows you to design your own planets. http://planetmaker.wthr.us/

Here is a list of Instructional Videos

1. How to Make and Design a Fantasy World Map by  Shipwreck Samantha

2. Generate Your Own Random Fantasy Maps by Mark Frauenfelder

3. How to Draw Medieval Cities: Fantasy Mapmaking Tutorial for DnD

Here is a list of software options for map building.

1. Roll For Fantasy Map Builder allows you to the create a whole world of your own design using over 1400 different images. It includes natural parts for the inner landscape, like forests, mountains, and hills. All of these elements can be dragged around if you enable this feature. http://rollforfantasy.com/tools/map-creator.php

2. World Spinner is for gaming, but allows you to render a high-quality map. No other tools or artistic skills required! https://worldspinner.com/

3. Otherworld Mapper software https://www.otherworldmapper.com/

4. Profantasy software  Campaign Cartographer 3+ is faster, easier to use and creates more attractive maps than ever before. https://www.profantasy.com/products/cc3-plus.asp

5. Inkmate is a site where you can build fantasy world maps. https://inkarnate.com/

Here is a list of Photoshop Brushes and other image sites for map building.

1. Fantasy Map Symbols has a large collection of downloadable images and map elements from terrain to castles.  http://www.yim778.com/group/fantasy-map-symbols/

2. Shutterstock has images for purchase https://www.shutterstock.com/search/cartography

3. Deviant Art  has a large assortment of medieval brushes.


 5.  Adobe Fantasy Brushes https://www.brusheezy.com/free/adobe

Next week, we will take a look at researching your historical setting, starting with Fairs and Festivals.

For advanced worldbuilding, check out SBB Build A World Workbook in print and ebook.

Story Research: Maps

Throughout history, borders have constantly shifted. Countries come and go. Manmade designs are built, moved, abandoned, or renamed. You can't rely on modern maps for historical accuracy. Luckily, there are multiple resources for both modern and historical settings.

Metrocosm allows you to watch the rise and fall of cities across time. http://metrocosm.com/history-of-cities/ watch world cities disappear

Ancient Roman RoadsThis source overlaid the ancient roman road system with modern subway maps. http://www.openculture.com/2017/06/ancient-romes-system-of-roads-visualized-in-the-style-of-modern-subway-maps.html

Google Maps allows you to zoom into Satellite and Street View in many locations and move around the area you wish to explore. You can see how a city is laid out, walk down its Main Street, or find the subway stations. You can look at the facades of famous homes and tourist sites. https://www.google.com/maps

You can go further if you enter Google Earth Voyager https://earth.google.com/web/. From note cards to video tours, this service takes the basic street view to a new level of touring and virtual guides. 

Google Virtual Tours take you so close, it is almost like being there. 

National Geographic Maps allow you to explore around the globe.

Old Maps Online allows you to choose a specific location on the map or browse their list. It has an extensive array of road maps from past eras. https://www.oldmapsonline.org/

United States Geographical Survey/USGS also offers a wide array of historical maps: https://www.usgs.gov/news/historical-maps-your-fingertips and topographical maps http://historicalmaps.arcgis.com/usgs.

Next week, we look at building a unique map for your fictional story world.

For advanced worldbuilding check out SBB Build A World Workbook in print and ebook.

Worldbuilding: Myths & Legends


Every society had an origin story and tales to explain how they came to be the way the evolved. They tried to explain things they had no explanation for. They noted oddities in their environment and the heavens. They had tales of warriors and monsters. If you are writing Historical fiction, providing details of the specific place and time enriched your story world. If you are writing Fantasy or Science Fiction, you get to create your own origin story, myths, and legends. Unique elements make your story memorable.



Whether human, alien, or paranormal, what is their origin story?

How did their group grow and spread?


What were the cultures represented in the area?

Did they have cults?


What were the main religions in the area? Were they in conflict or did they coexist peacefully?

What deities did they worship?

Did they have monsters or legendary creatures?

Did they have religious holidays?

How did they observe them?


Did they have special meeting places or sacred spaces?


Did they have pilgrimages or large gathering events related to their religions or superstitions (standing stones, temples, grottos, caves)?


When drawing from ancient myths and cultures, details matter. You can intentionally combine elements to make your story unique, but there should still be some logic to it. What parts of mythology applied to your story world?

Did they have superstitions?

Did they have urban legends?


Did they have traumatic events in their collective consciousness: floods, wars, miracles, tragedies, battles, wars, famine, or horrific acts?

Did they have special skills such as ESP, telekinesis, telepathy, mind control, intuition, lie detection etc.?


Did they believe in magic or have magic?

Has the magic/power always been around? Do the characters know the point of origin or is it shrouded in mystery?

Who can wield the power or talisman? Someone or everyone?

Who has the magic and why? There must be some logic to the process: it is either inherited, gifted or passed down, a genetic mutation, exposure to some element, etc. You have to decide what the limits are and let your audience know the specifics.

If psychic powers or super powers are involved, who can have them and why? What limits other people from having them or getting them?

Whether you have vampires, fairies, or elves, are they made or born?

What magical characters does your story world have?

Why is your paranormal or supernatural protagonist the only one who can solve the problem? What skill or talisman or position makes it possible?

Why is the antagonist capable of stopping the hero? Rules must govern the possibilities.


What are the magical beings’ weaknesses? What makes it possible for someone to overcome them?

What is the price for using magic?

Do they have magical or science fiction devices?


Who knows about them? Everyone everywhere? Certain groups? Are they hiding in plain sight? Be careful about pushing the boundaries of credibility. Think about your setting. How easy would it be to keep things a secret?

Suggested references:
1. The World's Religions, Revised and Updated: A Concise Introduction by Huston Smith
2. Mythology: The Ancient Secrets of the Greeks, Egyptians, Vikings, and the Norse by Martin R. Phillips
3. Myths of the World (The myths of Egyptian, Babylonian, Persian, Hebrew, Hellenic, Latin, Celtic, Nordic, Mesoamerican, and other traditions by Padraic Colum
4. Mesoamerican Myth: A Treasury of Central American Legends, Art, and History: A Treasury of Central American Legends, Art, and History by Anita Ganeri
5. Aztec Mythology by Stephen Currie
6. The Codex Borgia: A Full-Color Restoration of the Ancient Mexican Manuscript by Gisele Díaz & Alan Rodgers
7. Egyptian Mythology: A Guide to Ancient Egyptian Religion, Beliefs, and History by Dustin Yarc
8. A classical dictionary of India : illustrative of the mythology, philosophy, literature, antiquities, arts, manners, customs of the Hindus by John Garrett
9. Asian-Pacific Folktales and Legends by Jeannette Faurot
10. American Indian Myths and Legends by Richard Erdoes & Alfonso Ortiz
11. The Black Arts: A Concise History of Witchcraft, Demonology, Astrology, and Other Mystical Practices Throughout the Ages by Richard Cavendish
12. Alchemy & Mysticism by Alexander Roob

Next week, we tackle mapping your fictional world.


For advanced worldbuilding, the SBB Build A World Workbook is available in print and e-book.


Other titles in the series:

Story Building Blocks: The Four Layers of Conflict available in print and e-book takes you from story seed to conflict outline. The fourteen companion Build A Plot Workbooks, in print and e-book, offer step by step development prompts: ComedyCon, Heist & Prison BreakFantasyGothicHistoricalHorrorLiterary
(Drama),  MysteryRoad TripRomanceScience FictionTeam VictoryThriller & SuspenseWestern.

SBB II Crafting Believable Conflict in print and e-book and the Build A Cast Workbook in print and e-book help you build a believable cast and add conflict based on the sixteen personality types.

SBB III The Revision Layers in print and e-book helps you self-edit your manuscript.

Free story building tools are available at www.dianahurwitz.com.  


Worldbuilding Mores & Manners

Etiquette and behavioral guidelines have shifted vastly through the eras. When writing history, it helps to know what people would have frowned upon or indulged in. When creating Fantasy and SciFi worlds, you get to invent them.

Did they have special forms of greeting?


How did they show respect (bowing, curtseying, etc.)?

Were there procedures for leave-taking?


What behaviors were considered good manners?

What behaviors were considered bad manners?

Did they have stringent etiquette?

How did they feel about hospitality? Was it extended to strangers?

How did they feel about public displays of affection?

How did they feel about physical closeness and personal space?

How did they feel about people keeping pets?

How did they feel about romantic relationships in general?

Were people free to choose partners or were partnerships arranged?

Were marriages secular, religious, common law, or other?


Did they have hand-fasting, engagements, banns, or announcements?

Did they have simple or elaborate ceremonies?

Were the ceremonies public or private?

Where and/or when were the ceremonies held?

Did they allow the dissolution of partnerships or divorces?


Did they celebrate anniversaries?

How did they feel about having children?


How did they feel about "illegitimate" children or those born outside of partnerships?

Did they have rules regarding how many children you could have or who could have them?

Did they allow adoption?

What happened to orphans or abandoned children?

Did they have other reproductive measures: in vitro, surrogates, test tube babies, etc.?


How did they feel about adultery, wife-swapping, polygamy?

Were there any relationship taboos?


How did they feel about sexual or gender differences?

How did they feel about prostitution? 

How did they feel about other types of "vices?"? 


What were their commandments?


Did they shun or ostracize people?

Did they publicly humiliate people?

How did they express joy and happiness (body language, exclamations, in public and in private?

How did they express sadness and grief (body language, exclamations, in public and in private?

How did they express anger (body language, exclamations, in public and in private?


How did they express dislike (body language, exclamations, in public and in private?

How did they express love and affection (body language, exclamations, in public and in private?

How did they express friendship (body language, exclamations, in public and in private?


How did they express disgust or outrage (body language, exclamations, in public and in private?


Suggested references:
1. The History of Manners by Norbert Elias
2. The Ladies' Book of Etiquette, and Manual of Politeness A Complete Hand Book for the Use of the Lady in Polite Society by Florence Hartley
3. Manners, Customs, and Dress During the Middle Ages and During the Renaissance Period by P. L. Jacob
4. The Japanese Mind by Roger J. Davies
5. History, Manners, and Customs of the North American Indians by Old Humphrey & Thomas Osmond Summers
6. Medieval Life: Manners, Customs & Dress During the Middle Ages by Paul Lacroix
7. The Court Society by Norbert Elias
8. Do's and Taboos Around The World by Roger E. Axtell
9. Gestures: The Do's and Taboos of Body Language Around the World by Roger E. Axtell
10. Love For Sale: A World History of Prostitution by Nils Johan Ringdal
11. What Is Marriage For?: The Strange Social History of Our Most Intimate Institution by E.J. Graff

Next week, we will explore myths and legends.

For advanced world-building, the SBB Build A World Workbook is available in print and e-book.


Other titles in the series:

Story Building Blocks: The Four Layers of Conflict available in print and e-book takes you from story seed to conflict outline. The fourteen companion Build A Plot Workbooks, in print and e-book, offer step by step development prompts: ComedyCon, Heist & Prison BreakFantasyGothicHistoricalHorrorLiterary
(Drama),  MysteryRoad TripRomanceScience FictionTeam VictoryThriller & SuspenseWestern.

SBB II Crafting Believable Conflict in print and e-book and the Build A Cast Workbook in print and e-book help you build a believable cast and add conflict based on the sixteen personality types.

SBB III The Revision Layers in print and e-book helps you self-edit your manuscript.

Free story building tools are available at www.dianahurwitz.com.  

Worldbuilding: Weapons

Weapons have been one of the deciding factors in who rules the world. When writing about the past, you can research who had access to what when. When writing Science Fiction you can project what mankind could create. With Fantasy, you can create unique magical devices. From Transformers, to Jedi light sabers, to laser guns, weapons can add interest to your story world, or determine who wins a war.

What weaponry did they have: r
ocks and slings, catapult, trebuchet, spear, javelin, bludgeons, mace, nunchakus, bow and arrows, knives, snare, garrote, axe, sword, scythe, cutlass, scimitar, dart guns, traps, poisons, boomerangs,  manual Firearms, rifles, Gatlin guns, canons, semi-automatic and automatic firearms, hand grenades, smoke bombs, pipe bombs, fireworks, TNT, C4 explosives, nitroglycerine, petrol bombs, cluster bombs, barrel bombs, Molotov cocktail, land mines, other mines, bunker buster bombs, atomic bombs, electromagnetic pulse bombs, hydrogen bombs, napalm, sarin, agent orange, anthrax, other chemical or biological weapons, lasers, satellites, psychological or cyber warfare?

Did they have helmets, chain mail, armor, Kevlar, or supernatural or futuristic protective clothing?

Did they have chariots, t
anks, armored vehicles, war ships, aircraft,  submersible, submarine, trained animals, robots, drones, space ships, rockets, or spaceships?

What magical or futuristic weapons and methods of warfare populate your Fantasy or Science Fiction worlds?

Suggested references:
1. Ancient Warfare Technology: From Javelins and Chariots by Michael Woods
2. Weapon: A Visual History of Arms and Armor by Roger Ford & R.G. Grant
3. A History of Weapons: Crossbows, Caltrops, Catapults & Lots of Other Things that Can Seriously Mess You Up by John O'Bryan & Barry Orkin
4. Military History: The Definitive Visual Guide to the Objects of Warfare by DK
5. Fifty Weapons That Changed the Course of History by Joel Levy
6. Firearms: An Illustrated History by DK
7. The Illustrated History of Firearms by Jim Supica, Doug Wicklund, & Philip Schreier
8. Israel's Edge: The Story of The IDF's Most Elite Unit - Talpiot by Jason Gewirtz
9. Special Operations Mental Toughness:The Invincible Mindset of Delta Force Operators, Navy SEALs, Army Rangers & Other Elite Warriors! by Lawrence Colebrooke
10. World War 2: Waffen SS Soldier Stories: Eyewitness Accounts of Hitler's Elite Troops by Ryan Jenkins
11. A History of Warfare by John Keegan
12. Intelligence in War: Knowledge of the Enemy from Napoleon to Al-Qaeda by John Keegan
13. The Great Game: The Myths and Reality of Espionage by Frederick P. Hitz
14. The Art Of War by Sun Tzu
15. Swords, Spears & Maces (Illustrated History of Weapons) by Chuck Will


Next week, we will explore Social Structure.

For advanced world-building, the SBB Build A World Workbook is available in print and e-book.


Other titles in the series:

Story Building Blocks: The Four Layers of Conflict available in print and e-book takes you from story seed to conflict outline. The fourteen companion Build A Plot Workbooks, in print and e-book, offer step by step development prompts: ComedyCon, Heist & Prison BreakFantasyGothic,HistoricalHorrorLiterary (Drama),  MysteryRoad TripRomanceScience FictionTeam VictoryThriller & SuspenseWestern.

SBB II Crafting Believable Conflict in print and e-book and the Build A Cast Workbook in print and e-book help you build a believable cast and add conflict based on the sixteen personality types.

SBB III The Revision Layers in print and e-book helps you self-edit your manuscript.

Free story building tools are available at www.dianahurwitz.com.  

Worldbuilding: Social Structure

Details of the place your characters inhabit and move around in are critical to making your story world come to life. No matter the genre, you have an opportunity to introduce and support thematic arguments through these elements.

What is the population size?

Where are they on the spectrum from isolated to cosmopolitan?

How do they feel about "outsiders" or people of other ethnicities or regions?

How easily do they embrace change?

How many races or ethnicities are represented in their society?


Do they promote individuality or the collective good?

Are their lives laid back or bustling?


Do they get along with their neighbors, are there tensions, or are they at war with one another?

Who do they look up to? Who are their heroes?

Who do they look down on? Who are their villains?

Do they value fame or notoriety?


How enlightened are they from the range of the dark ages to the height of progressiveness?


How paranoid are they?

How do they assign names? Do they have family names or surnames?


Do they keep family trees or study genealogy?

Did they record things in family bibles, local registries, or national registries?

Do they have coats of arms or other emblems to indicate group affiliation or status?

Did they have local or regional holidays like President's day, Founder's Day, etc.?

Did they have benevolent societies or charities?

Did they have clubs or civic activities or groups?

Did they have ceremonies surrounding mourning and death?

Did they bury the dead or cremate them? Did they have cemeteries, mausoleums, burial mounds, catacombs, tombs, pyramids, or mass graves?

For the rest of the questions in this category, check out the SBB Build A World Workbook, available in print and e-book.

Next week, we will explore Mores & Manners.


Other titles in the series:


Story Building Blocks: The Four Layers of Conflict available in print and e-book takes you from story seed to conflict outline. The fourteen companion Build A Plot Workbooks, in print and e-book, offer step by step development prompts: ComedyCon, Heist & Prison BreakFantasyGothicHistoricalHorrorLiterary
(Drama),  MysteryRoad TripRomanceScience FictionTeam VictoryThriller & SuspenseWestern.

SBB II Crafting Believable Conflict in print and e-book and the Build A Cast Workbook in print and e-book help you build a believable cast and add conflict based on the sixteen personality types.

SBB III The Revision Layers in print and e-book helps you self-edit your manuscript.

Free story building tools are available at www.dianahurwitz.com.  

Worldbuilding: Governance

The idea of ownership and borders evolved as people began congregating in large numbers in specific places. Before then, families probably staked out camping grounds, caves, or hunting territories.

Did people have the concept of ownership of land or territory, such as hunting regions, homesteads, clans, villages, towns, cities, townships, counties, colonies, provinces, shires, states, countries, or intergalactic territories?

How did they designate borders: natural landmarks (rivers, natural formations, etc.), cairns, hedges, border crossings, walls, fences, land surveys and markers, flags, castles, towers, or some other method such as force fields or magical protection?

Who owned land: anyone, everyone, certain groups or castes?

Who owned the local natural resources: individuals, groups, governments, rulers?

Did they have legal means of owning land or resources such as deeds, titles, or land grants?

Were they mutually agreed upon or enforced?

How dense was the population: dozens, hundreds, thousands, millions?

Who ran each section: tribal or clan leaders, wisemen or women, warriors, kings, priests, elected leaders or appointed boards, an elite class, or council?

What governing system did they have: tribal leaders, matriarchal, or patriarchal chieftans?

Democracy: Rule by the majority. Individuals or group of individuals composing a minority have no protection against the unlimited power of the majority.

Republic: Has a written constitution of basic rights that protect the minority from being completely unrepresented or overridden by the majority.

Theocracy: A deity is recognized as the supreme civil ruler, the deity's laws being interpreted by the ecclesiastical authorities or a system of government by priests claiming a divine commission.

Demagogue: A leader who makes promises based on popular prejudices and false claims in order to gain power.

Plutocracy: A society ruled or controlled by the small minority of the wealthiest citizens.

Autocrat: Power rests with a small number of people distinguished by nobility, wealth, family ties, education, or corporate, religious or military control. Such states are often controlled by a few prominent families who typically pass their influence from one generation to the next, but inheritance is not a necessary condition.

Socialist: Public, collective, or cooperative ownership equally by all citizens.

Communist: Originally an egalitarian Utopian ideology removing class and religious control of government where everyone had common ownership. 

Capitalist: A working class who must work to survive that makes up the majority of society and a capitalist class minority who derives profit from employing the working class.

Monarchy: A group, usually a family, exercises a role of sovereignty and rule until death or abdication based on rules of heredity.

Dictatorship: A ruler exercising absolute unrestricted control in a government without hereditary succession.

Utopian: Highly desirable or nearly perfect qualities for its citizens where everyone is treated equally well, eliminating poverty and deprivation through fairly distributed resources.

Dystopian: A totalitarian state in cataclysmic decline that is undesirable or frightening.

Other Fantasy or Science Fiction government model?

Did they have the position by election, heredity, or force?

Who were the political parties or influential groups?

Did they have knowledge of the wider world and other systems?

Did they have groups determined to change the government system?

Did they have oppositional parties or representatives (congress, house of lords, etc.)?

Was it a time of peace or war?

Was there a history of great conflict?

Next week, we will explore Law & Order.

For advanced world-building, the SBB Build A World Workbook is available in print and e-book.


Other titles in the series:

Story Building Blocks: The Four Layers of Conflict available in print and e-book takes you from story seed to conflict outline. The fourteen companion Build A Plot Workbooks, in print and e-book, offer step by step development prompts: ComedyCon, Heist & Prison BreakFantasyGothicHistoricalHorrorLiterary
(Drama),  MysteryRoad TripRomanceScience FictionTeam VictoryThriller & SuspenseWestern.

SBB II Crafting Believable Conflict in print and e-book and the Build A Cast Workbook in print and e-book help you build a believable cast and add conflict based on the sixteen personality types.

SBB III The Revision Layers in print and e-book helps you self-edit your manuscript.

Free story building tools are available at www.dianahurwitz.com.