A large group of high fantasy authors create their own geographic spaces and fictional worlds. Some write a kingdom, others a continent or two, still others entire planets. For The Incarn Saga, my first series, I created a large kingdom and its surrounding territories. For the benefit of readers who prefer visual aids, as well as for myself, I actually drew a map of the kingdom for the books.
I enjoyed doing this as it allowed me to incorporate my passion for art into my writing. Did I want my kingdom to have mountain ranges? What about forests or plains? Was it going to be located near the ocean? I decided that Lluava, the main character throughout the series, would be born and raised in a southern seaside village. I drew upon my own experiences growing up in the southeastern states as well as my knowledge of coastal islands to create Rivendale. Other locations and their corresponding geography were developed from research of other areas around the world blended with pure imagination.
Nevertheless, is having a map important? Maybe not. Personally, having a map aided my writing, I now had a visual for the scale of the land mass and thus a better sense of a logical timeframe in which characters moved between locations. For example, if it had taken two weeks to travel between neighboring towns yet only five to travel across the country, something would not add up. This discrepancy would raise questions about the “reality” of the plot and might jar readers out of the story. Also during the creation process, the map helps make sure that I, the writer, do not forget a major geological formation or name of a village.
Whether maps in fantasy books are a visual tool for reference or an addition to simply enhance the experience of reading, I suggest everyone take a moment to appreciate them.