Among my various side-projects, I've been drafting a map for my friend and awesome author, Kelly McCullough. He's working on a new series, set in a far-away land (TM). One of the challenges for the map was a forested area, surrounded by rivers. There was also a mountain jutting out from the middle of the forest. Adding to the complexity, the region is bound by mountain ranges. The trick was to combine these features into a visual representation that looked good, but also didn't obviously break any "rules" regarding how landscapes evolve and relate to each other:
At some point, once the first book is published, I'll revisit more of the features, including how I managed to fit country and city names into these features, without making any one piece too hard to read.
This post was inspired by Riparian Rap's "Geomorphically Incorrect Art" series. I've always looked at fantasy maps as serving two masters. First, it needs to supply the necessary elements that enhance the storyline. Second, it has to contain sufficient realism so as not to destroy the readers' suspension of disbelief. If the map looks like it depicts a real place, the story benefits. If the map looks like it was thrown together by someone who wasn't there, the story suffers. The maps in J.R.R. Tolkien's books are examples of the former - even though they aren't always geomorphically plausible, they have a sense of place and history that serves the tale.