Should I make a map?

I rather just write but I feel like this is an important question to ask first. Part of my novel takes place on another planet filled with other continents and countries. I wanted to know if it's necessary to make a map before really getting in to writing the story. I've sketched one up but it feels weird to me, and I don't know where to put anything.

Is a map essential for the reader to follow the story?

If the protagonist characters know everything about this other planet and operate on different continents, then maybe. But if you're telling the story from the perspective of a foreigner who is stranded in this foreign setting, then I don't think a map is necessary. You can just describe whichever location the POV character is in, then hint at the broader setting with broad strokes as soon as it begins to matter. Limit the amount of exposition for the reader to a minimum.

If geography is important to your story, a map can be pretty helpful. Personally, I tend not to use them, though. I used to make detailed maps in my GMing days, and there is something to be said for having the world pre-defined when you're writing an open-ended, audience driven story. However, when I have a specific plotline in mind I typically 'map' out the story's plot and then determine where the various locations are relative to each other, rather than making the world first and then forcing my plotline to match that. (I find it's easier to make sure all the characters have the time and means to get to the right places for the right scenes that way!) If I spend a lot of time in a world that I've developed like that and find I need a map to keep track of places, I'll go back and make one durring a re-read. And thattends to look like a cross between a venn diagram and a web diagram, with a circle for each location and lines connecting them with labels like "20 minutes by car" or "two hour walk" or "Everything in this box is across the river."

Chrysails, it's not for the readers really, I'm wondering if I should make it for me, I guess so I don't contradict myself.

Eren,that's kinda what I'm doing but I think I'll make the map first. It seems easier to me than going back after everything is written.

One of my fav writing instructors, Daniel Jose Older, taught a class on worldbuilding that I had attended. Basically, he taught that you should absolutely be drawing out your world as you worldbuild. But it's more than just a map. It includes drawing how these people live. It's almost like a sketch that architects do for a new neighbourhood. It really helps to figure out how these people live in this world you are building.

If it's for yourself only, then you could always wait until the moment you feel you NEED one. :)

If it's more a worry of contradictions, you could always add items to the map as you go. For instance, in my town, I knew where certain places HAD to be, marked them in, and as other key places came up in the story, I inserted them. Sometimes it's hard to predict what they key locations will be anyway. (For personified math I had to do it in retrospect, realizing after a couple years that I needed a better idea of where people lived relative to each other. Not unlike what Chrysalis said, above.)

The other thing to bear in mind, particularly if people are heading to another planet, is they may not get accurate maps or information anyway. ("I thought you said the next city was only a day's travel away!" "Apparently a zorik is more than a mile?"/"I didn't realize there was a new river here.") So you've got some flexibility between what you know as the author and what the characters know.

Yes. You should.


Ok, there is things to consider about it, but really as long as you actually sit down and do it rather than spend months/years thinking about doing it, it'll be fine.

A map provides valuable framing for the author, and indeed depending on the author and the map, a good map can make coming up with stories child's play. In particular it is a priceless boon for a journey type story. Honestly as a reader a map can be kinda neat, but for an author? It can be near divine.

The main things to get on the manp aren't the little details, but the big sweeps. Major cities, large cursed scars on the land that produce hordes of gibbering wotsits and pastel hydras from the fifth dimension of tasteless socks, that sort of thing. If politics are a big thing in your story, get national and other borders jammed in there.

If you haven't made maps before, your first coastlines will likely suck, just redraft.