Age of Discovery
Starting off on a similar note from the last post, a map is not needed for worldbuilding, but officially I think you should create one for a few reasons:
1. It will help you keep track of where things are in your own story, instead of getting lost in your own world making mistakes.
The Rolling Mountains of Chaos cannot be described as being located in the northeast quarter of the kingdom when the Plains of Despair are supposedly in the same place.
2. It makes it a real place in your mind. And the more real it is to you, the better your world translates to the reader.
3. If printed with the novel, the reader can follow and relate more to the story if they can trace where the characters are and where these places are in comparison to the rest of the world. Readers can get confused and disoriented when the author talks about locations the reader can’t see.
An example is the Chronicles of the Black Company. I had a hell of time with the mercenaries’ travels without being able to place a single one of the mentioned locations in my head, the world became. Despite some of the best worldbuilding I have ever read, it made the world a little less real for me.
And if the map is detailed to signify landscape types, readers can get a better idea of what this place may look like. Bonus!
4. Another bonus. Don’t you, yourself as a reader, like to look over the map of a book and skim the names of these places? And wonder why they are there and what makes them special? Almost curious enough to buy a book, but you have to give it a sample read at least. It helps to draw in a reader.
Now this is not to say you can’t just make the map for yourself. You can make it just for yourself, as stated, it can just be there to help you keep track of where things are. But where do you begin? Start out with blobs of locations and/or land masses. Find out where your continents, countries, and cities are. Don’t get detailed on what they look like in the beginning, you just need to flesh out where certain important elements will be located.
Get everything major and important items onto the map is the first move. Go through what you have plotted in your story and add those. Look over characters and where they are from, how they would have grown up in the mountains, the tundra, or the desert.
Is your world going to have only one continent or is it going to have several? This notion gets the mind thinking about how the continental platting may work, and where the world stands at this point. Is your Pangea stable and comfy for now? Or is it unstable and devastated by a slow division? Or is the world already fully divided into many lands? Or has it only just been divided into the continents?
Or has it just divided completely into small islands? Sounds like many of them would be volcanic, leaving for a great deal of conflict and issues for traveling.
Are these groups of islands controlled like mini city-states or are they all independent? Are there cities in the sea? Has air travel taken over?
Is there solid land beneath the icecaps? Are the poles even frozen over? Few use a polar region in their world, what could you do with yours?
Are any cities beneath the ground? Maybe on mountain sides?
Are there any floating lands in the sky? What would that look like over the sea or over the lands? Do they drift? Or are they stationary? Are they even inhabitable? Do some fall on occasion? And if so, do they rise back up?
Any lands unclaimed? Maybe neutral zones? Any ancient forgotten lands/cities? These can become rampant with stragglers from other lands or it could be fought over like a piece of meat between wolves. Or are they avoided like the plague?
Where No Man Has Gone Before
You have created your map. You have a basic idea where you want everything to be, now is the time to get detailed. Natural and synthetic boarders are something to think about. Even temporary ones.
When the seasons change, what kind of impact does it have on the world for things like trade and travel? Can an early snow choke a city of commerce? Can the spring floods detour ships of pirates because they don’t know how to navigate the wild running rivers? Do wild fires often strike small villages outside capital cities?
Do canyons keep enemy forces away? Do valley’s allow for easier defense from constant raids? Can these places be easily located in the first place?
Has there been the creation of a great wall, not really to protect, but to intimidate outsiders and show off the power this empire commands?
Isolation for certain regions of a land, even if their nation is mostly not isolated, will lead to levels of national pride and/or xenophobia. Think of the impact this will have on people and characters. It creates different views of the world outside. What will your characters think about the outside world? Are they scared of it? Do they welcome it? Do they accept outsiders, welcome them? But still keep a distant disposition from them, stopping any kind of contamination from the outside world?
The news of a traveler from the outside world is going to have an impact on the people. Do they make rumors about the outside world? Do parents use it to create stories to scare their children? What will news of war have on these people? Will your character want to fight in the war? Or will they just use it as another example as to why everyone, including themselves, should never get involved?
Belief In the Land
As I just hinted, your characters are going to be impacted by what you create on your map. Landscapes influence peoples in profound ways. What kind of morals and beliefs will volcanos, valleys, or glaciers cause your people to believe?
Is it commonly accepted that it is an evil sorcerer that causes the volcano to erupt? Should the people avoid certain behavior to keep the volcano calm? Like praying at its side or perhaps at the very lip?
The people do not cross the Valley Bridge at night for fear that the an angry spirit will pull them and the bridge down? Is it believed that the valley was created to segregate one people from another?
What about what we talked about before? Do the people believe that a spring god or spirit or angel summons the waters to protect the people from things like pirates and invasions?
Is it that the gods are spiteful and bring down the snows to lock out trade? Does this encourage the people to take up the challenge and endure the long isolated winter, and show the gods that they can in fact live without the trade?
Has the great walls become legendary and speak of great stone giants that created the walls and now slumber in peace since the wall detours so many from crossing into their sanctuary of land?
What will your people think and create over anything that exists in the world? What about the desert? Do they have any legends that speaks about the land once being fruitful and then their god becoming angry and taking it all away in a generation as punishment, and use this to explain the desert?
These ideas can be true, it’s fantasy. But think statically. How will these ideas affect your character’s beliefs and morals?
Will your character, as they travel the world, pray on every mountain they set foot upon on to keep it from becoming a volcano? Even if they don’t hold the belief, are they compelled to ask some force to keep the mountain tamed?
Do your characters avoid bridges at night, despite the fact that the legend solely existed for the bridge at home? These things will impact your characters, they are products of where they are from.
Other resources I have collected for you:Cartographers’ Guild. Great resource for map making. A good worldbuilding blog World Building School, here are couple of posts Tectonic and Landscaping.
I also found this lovely trove of underground cities in history. Think about the impact these places have had on the people around them.