World History,  writing

Fjelldal City Map


I love maps. Old maps, new maps, maps of actual places, maps of places that only exist in the mind. It could be an obsession. It is a requirement for me to write. Maps keep my mind straight about where the people of my worlds are going, but even beyond that, maps inform me about world politics and how society functions. Land or water barriers change migration patterns and establish borders for countries, counties, and citizens. Those are the things that make the world come alive in my mind.

Today’s map

The featured image above is a work in progress and far from complete. In fact, I need to change the density of the buildings and streets (I made the city too large by making the blocks too small).

I suffer from the chronic writer’s problem of trying to get very accurate information, and in this case, I spent more than an insignificant amount of time researching historical numbers for medieval population densities. In that research, I came across a very detailed paper on call Population-Area Relationship for Medieval European Cities. The research article goes into a lot of detail and provided me with enough information to come up with some quickly scribbled notebook calculations for how big I needed to make the city above (about 0.75 miles by about 4.71 miles).

Therefore, I am sharing this as a discussion of my process for making the map and not as an example of anything finished.


The city of Fjelldal exists in the northeastern part of my world. About as far north and east as a human dares to go (there are elves on the other side of the Bad Lands in the Rim Mountains and elves and humans do not get along). Unfortunately for the Varikians, southern invaders currently occupy their county.

My current WIP takes part in this northern capital. The main characters, Kadia and Tylor use the city as an initial base for their activities. As such, I really want to understand the layout and traffic flows. Future books in the series will also have pivotal moments in Fjelldal.

Crafting the map

The workflow I am using for the city is one of blocking in the basic structure before doing the actual drawing. The featured image above reflects that effort.

Inside Photoshop, I started out with a grey scale layer to depict the terrain in more of a topographical sense. The darker areas reflected the stepper cliffs of the fjord (again, understanding the land allows me to see where the people would create roads and paths).

It is hard to see, but I have a patterned grey mass running down the right third of the image, which depicts the Kalar River flowing into the fjord. Fjelldal benefits from river traffic as well as people sailing to other holds along the northern coast. Hence I have left an area along the fjord for a harbor.

For the city proper, I blocked out a couple of areas where I knew the castle needed to go and then I added a solid black layer above that that to fill in everything inside the walls. I am then erasing lines to make roads, streets, and alleys. This automatically creates the city blocks, market squares, and other details.

Having been to both London and Paris, I must say the explorer in me preferred the winding maze of streets that is London and the surrounding boroughs. As a result, I am glad that Christopher Wren’s plans to rebuild London after the Great Fire never got used. Paris is beautiful, but more of their avenues are straight and orderly. For me, I wanted this ancient city of Varik to have a less ordered and planned feel and my trips to London have helped to fix that in my mind. 

Once I redo the blocking, I will create layers to draw in the buildings, fountains, and other details that reflect the past of the city. As I make progress on this effort, I will share some of the intermediate results.