Tag Archives: world building

Mapping My Universe ft. John Robin

One of the most enjoyable phases, during the production of The Slave Prince, was having two maps cartograph-ed by my author friend, John Robin. Now, if you’re an author, having your fictional world realised on paper is an amazing feeling. It takes the publishing experience to a whole new, fantastical level. It makes your work feel legit, as though it’s ready to play with the big boys! So truly, I am very grateful for the work John has done. And today, I’m giving him the spotlight.

Having worked with him, I believe John can give great insight on world building from a writer/cartographer standpoint. As a writer himself – authoring A Thousand Roads – he is able to approach this facet of ‘creation’ from a unique perspective. So whether you’re a writer, an artist, both, or neither, what he has to say will certainly make an interesting read. But… before we get to the Q&A, let’s take a look at what he has done for the realm of The Slave Prince.

*Click image to enlarge*


Me: So John, let’s start with how you begin mapping a universe?

John: This is actually the hardest part for me. I always need a starting point. Usually, when it is my own world, I will begin one map by expanding another, or drawing beyond the boundaries of others where I have been curious about what lay beyond them. I just need a starting point, then my pen tells me where to go.

I find it much easier to draw someone else’s fantasy universe because I can always ask for a sketch. In your case, with The Slave Prince, the two sketches you provided me were excellent because I was able to begin translating your vision into something produced by my own hand.

Me: Do you incorporate your own imagination into the maps?

John: Absolutely. Most of the flourishes that end up in the final map are discoveries that happen in the process of doing. For instance, the forest south of Alpenwhist on the kingdom map wasn’t in the plan, but our work developing the world map beforehand reminded me there are woods south of Alpenwhist. So, I drew the woods. I didn’t expect there to be so many details in the forest, but the process of drawing revealed surprises, as it always does for me when trees are involved.

I cannot explain how this happens. It’s a bit like writing a book I suppose: one might see many plot points, but there are the surprises that come a few paragraphs from when you write them, and they radically change the story. Aragorn in Lord of the Rings was a character like this, apparently – just walked into the story, but what an important player to the whole trilogy! This is much like how I’d describe my imagination at play when I draw a map. Be it my universe or someone else’s, the map is a drawing and it has a life and a story, much like a book. The lines are the storytellers, and I am their obedient scribe.

Me: What do you find challenging in each project?

John: The hardest part for me is usually the final touches, especially the labeling. I prefer to write my own labels in a styled script by hand, but as I learned in our work together, these don’t translate well in a smaller map on page. I learned a lot about incorporating fonts and spaces in Photoshop after the drawing was complete. However, I do want to develop my own fonts based on my handwritten letters for future. It was liberating working on the second map (Alpenwhist kingdom map) knowing I could draw it without placing any labels. In the case of the world map, which I drew first, I wrote in all the labels by hand, then had to meticulously erase every one to replace them with a font. The advantage of this was that the space for the label was created. What this taught me was to leave space for labels on future maps, and hopefully begin my own carefully crafted letters for future use.

Me: What do you enjoy about cartography?

John: Drawing a map tells me the story of a world. Seeing how mountains span, rivers bend, forests arise, coast lines bend and shape, lakes appear on empty page, islands dot the seas – all these things tell me a story. Not just in the shapes. Often I will see a stand of trees and know it has an important history or should have a name. Or, I will label a territory and the story behind it comes to mind just in how the name sounds once I write it down. Drawing maps is what, for me, makes a fantasy world feel truly alive. In fact, when I go to the fantasy section and look for new fantasy books, it’s the maps that I turn to right away and tell me whether I want to enter this new world or not. It was, after all, the map of Wilderland in The Hobbit, on my grandmother’s bookshelf, that I would flip to many nights before I knew how to read, that eventually pulled me to fantasy and my own map-making.

Me: Does cartography help you in your own writing endeavours?

John: Yes! There is a storytelling that augments the narrative form I experience when writing. It sharpens world-building in ways that listing details alone would not do. In a way, drawing a map is a third level of engaging with a fantasy world beyond writing and world-building. A bit like M.C. Escher’s drawing hands, one feeds the other, and the other feeds it, and it circles on and on into deeper levels of imagination.


What did I say – it takes someone who can channel both of his amazing gifts to be able to build worlds from a unique perspective. I’ve found myself trusting John in the decisions he has made for my world and I have no regrets. Thanks again John, for playing such an important role in the production of The Slave Prince! You the man!

I hope this post has given you some insight on cartography and how it can build a fantasy world. I’ve learned a lot from working with John, and I’ve learned some more just from this ‘interview’. If you’d like to know more about John and his works, take a peek below! I’ve included some extras for those who’d like to give this man and his talent a chance.



John runs a blog at TheEpicFantasyWriter. He’s also the senior editor of Story Perfect Editing Services and founder of Dreamscape Cover DesignsIf you’d like to get in-touch with John on social media, he’s on Twitter and Facebook!

A Thousand Roads 

Release Date: October 31, 2018 (eBook) / January 19, 2019 (Paperback)
Genre: Dark epic fantasy

Disclaimer: this novel is intended for adult readers. It contains sex, violence, coarse language, and dark subject matter.

Azzadul, the god-king, the Lord of Light revered by many. When the darkness corrupted him, he became the Dark Lord, feared the world over. His magic, once a gateway to immortality for his people, delved instead into horrors as he sought ever deeper levels of mastery. Children were stolen from their beds, coveted for his blood-rites. When he vanished, it all ended, and the people of the world tried to forget, to move on…

Jak Fuller has always wanted a home. An orphan born ten years after Azzadul’s disappearance, he has wandered far and wide, trying to forget the memory of a burning woman. When he comes to Fort Lasthall, on the outskirts of the Dark Lord’s former kingdom, he hopes to finally settle into a peaceful life. Instead, he finds himself unnaturally compelled by a dark, terrible voice, a voice that knows him, calls to him. A sense of destiny that fills him with fear.

New powers are rising in the dark places of the world. A master of fire-rites called Talamus the Red, arch-foe of Azzadul, seeks to enslave the world with a magic he has been developing for the many centuries of his life. Ready at last, there is only one weakness in his plan, an obstacle he is determined to destroy: a boy, bound to an old magic that just might resurrect the power of Azzadul.

The very power bound to Jak, before he was even born…


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Posted by on February 1, 2018 in Writing Journey


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3 Ways To Crush A Writer’s Block

Currently, I’m working on the second book of my trilogy. And as I’m trying my best to tie up book one and prepare for book three in this middle book, I find myself struggling to keep the story exciting. In fact, closing one adventure while prepping for another has never been this difficult. Of course, I knew writing a trilogy wasn’t going to be easy. A trilogy is a huge commitment and requires more layering than stand-alone novels. However, I didn’t expect to hit a block barely midway into the series. It’s frustrating. I’m tired. But I need to get it done! So to get past this stage, I’ve been practicing 3 things. Hopefully, these 3 things would help you too… should you be in a similar predicament. After all, stuck is the worst place any writer can be in.

#1 Vocalise Ideas

Personally, I find that voicing my ideas help me generate more ideas. The more I say them out loud, the easier it is to fix and improve them. Yes, I know how talking to myself makes me look. No, I’m not crazy. In fact, I voice my daily thoughts more frequently than I should. But off late, I’ve been internalizing my ideas. I’ve been keeping them boxed, that they’ve gone stale. Realising this, I decided to give them some fresh air – bouncing them off my room wall, behind closed doors. And lo and behold, a plot twist recently hit. So, if you’re not already monologuing, I suggest you give it a go. You never know what crazy idea would come your way, simply by acting a little mad.

#2 Dive Into Similar Works

Disclaimer: I’m not promoting plagiarism. You should never copy someone’s work. But, there’s nothing wrong with drawing inspiration from others.

As my trilogy is about a young king, set in a medieval world of magic, I’ve been diving into similar works of its genre. I’ve been watching countless historical dramas, to grasp palace politics while exposing myself to old world architecture. Because I cannot travel back in time and work as a palace maid, it’s impossible for me to write a story based on my experience. Hence, the only way for me to gain perspective is to embrace the works of others’.

I seek to be inspired by parallel worlds – to see it play out before my eyes, and to live vicariously through works of fiction. And not only do these stories oil the gears of my own, I’m left thoroughly entertained too.

#3 Run Head First

I’ve probably mentioned this before. Wait, I believe I’ve mentioned it before. But, I’ll say it again: to get a story moving is to write it. A story cannot write itself and it needs us to finish it. So despite the herculean block, shadowing us from the finish line, we have to charge forward. We have to crush that block by writing the most horrendous chapters. Yes, you’ll need to rewrite them. And yes, you’ll want to weep at the horror of your own words. Trust me, I know. But thankfully, those words have been written – you can go back and fix them, because they’ve been written. So run head first. Charge at the wall. It’ll hurt, but the pain is worth the finish line.

As I strive to complete my book this year, I hope you endeavour to finish your own projects too. We’re all on the same boat, navigating the rough waves. But no matter what comes our way, we’re the authors of our stories and we have the power to bring them to an end. No block is too big for an author to overcome. And knowing this, there’s no stopping us.


Posted by on June 29, 2017 in Writing Journey


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World Builders — Jeyna Grace

Earlier this month, I shared my thoughts on world building and The Battle for Oz with fellow Inkshares author, John Robin.

Read a snippet below and more on the EpicFantasyWriter blog itself.

John Robin's Blog

Today, my World Builders guest is Jeyna Grace, author of The Battle for Oz and The Slave Prince (which is currently in the early stages on Inkshares).


Jeyna Grace never stopped playing pretend. One day, she decided to document her imagination on paper… And the rest is history.

Her first foray into the world of publishing was in 2011. Since then, she has released six titles. She also writes stories for her blog to practice her craft. She currently works for a children’s publishing house, where she creates a variety of material for young readers. Their letters in response to her stories bring her joy, but her true passion is writing novels. She dreams of becoming a full-time author one day and hopes her journey will inspire others to chase their dreams too.

Born and raised in Malaysia, she often retreats to the world inside her head, where she teaches…

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Posted by on December 14, 2015 in Others


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