Featured Author Week: Author guest post – Jill Williamson shares about creating a storyworld, map first


Ever pick up a fantasy novel and look to the front to see if there’s a map? It’s one of the first things I do. And if there’s no map, I’m disappointed. I mean, how hard would it have been for someone to make a map? It doesn’t have to be much. A few city dots and mountains. Perhaps a river. Maybe a coastline.

I’m a visual learner. I have a great imagination for creating, but my brain works much faster with visual aids. This is likely why when I decided to write a fantasy novel, the first thing I did was draw a map. Here is my map for my Blood of Kings storyworld.


Yeah, it looks a little too much like Africa and it was way too big, but I didn’t know any better at the time. And as I stumbled through creating my first mythical storyworld, I caught the storyworld building disease big time. I quickly filled a five-inch, three-ring binder with information on my new world. I knew climates, vegetation, and political histories for each city. I had written family trees for each ruling family and a historical timeline of the land since the new settlers had arrived. I drew floor plans of major castles. I drew battle maps. And, since I’d been a fashion designer once upon a time, I created full character sketches too.

I remember my husband saying to me as I colored in the velvet cape of my evil prince, “I thought you were going to write a book.”

Oh, yeah. Write the book. Good plan.

If he hadn’t said that, I might still be storyworld building the land of Er’Rets today. Yikes. Close call.

But that map fed my imagination. I could see where two nearby cities might fight over a river or bay, where a mountain village could be cut off in bad weather, how far it was from one place to another, and how the north and south might form different alliances because of distance. And that gave me ideas for backstory and plot twists, which made my fantasy storyworld come to life.

That’s why, no matter what I’m writing, I always create some kind of map or floor plan to start. Here’s the map I drew for Captives.


Captives takes place in the future in what was the ski resort of Mount Crested Butte, Colorado. For this map, I started with an actual map of the ski resort and added my futurist city. This way I was able to meld the past with my imaginary future. Lots of cool story ideas came from this map.

Mapmaking is pretty sweet. You should try it sometime. Just don’t catch storyworld builders disease or you may forget things like going to work or feeding yourself.

What are some of your favorite maps from literature?


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