How to Draw Maps and Floor Plans for Your Story

Mechanics Writing

Have you ever struggled with the layout of a setting in your story? Have you ever gotten a character lost? Or written something that isn’t physically possible? (“She turned to the left and entered the next room…” Oh, wait, the door was to her right. SHE’S WALKING THROUGH WALLS NOW, FOLKS!)

If you missed it, definitely read the post by Author EJ McCay in which she shares how she uses to help visualize houses used in her stories.

If you can’t find what you’re looking for on Zillow or if you need to figure out the layout of something like an office or office building, a neighborhood, or maybe a whole fantasy country… read on. I’m going to share with you some tips for making simple maps and floor plans. You can, of course, take it further and make them as amazing and detailed as you’d like, but my goal is to keep this easy enough for anyone to try!

First thing’s first: you’re going to need something to draw on. You can use any piece of paper (although I do have a special printable for you at the end of this post…), or something like a whiteboard / chalkboard if you’re not afraid of it smudging). If you’re into going paperless, you could even use a sketching app on your computer, tablet, or smartphone. (Evernote, maybe?)

You’ll also need something to draw with. If you’re using paper, I recommend a pencil with a good eraser. You’ll probably find yourself erasing and redrawing a little. It’s just going to happen, you know? If you’re using an app, you will get best results using a stylus, but it’s not necessary if you don’t have one.

Lastly, you’ll probably want a straight edge of some kind. Bonus points if it’s a ruler, because you can then get picky about drawing to-scale if you feel like it. (Not required, though.) I’ve used the edge of a bookmark in a pinch.

Let’s get started!

Outside Edge

It’s good to begin by outlining the outside edge. If it’s a house, decide what the shape of its footprint will be. (Yay for simple, rectangular houses!) If it’s a landmass, feel free to get squiggly. If you’re drawing to a particular scale, be sure your measurements are correct at this step.

Building Interiors

If you’re drawing a building floor plan, grab that straight edge and draw lines for walls. Leave gaps in the walls for doorways. Indicate windows and doors like this (you can even show which way the door swings if it matters to the story):

For this step, I recommend drawing very lightly at first. Once you’re happy with the way everything is laid out, you can darken up the lines.

You can add furniture to your building if its placement affects things in your story. You can do anything from simple shapes to a more illustrated look.

A quick note about multi-level buildings: draw a floor plan for each floor. Make a note of their order and don’t forget to indicate how / where the people access each floor (stairs, elevators, rope ladders, etc.)


Map Details

If you’re making a map, outline bodies of water. Again, don’t be afraid to be squiggly. Nature never features straight lines. (Unless you’re writing sci-fi or dystopian with seriously engineered terraforming… but that’s another story.) Depending on how “zoomed in” your map is, you might show the width of the rivers, or you might just draw them as thin lines.

Indicate mountains by drawing the peaks. Forests can be as simple or complex as your drawing skills allow. Cities can be indicated by simple dots or squares with the name written nearby. If you want to get more fancy and you have the space, you can draw a representative city.

Don’t forget the legend! Actually, you don’t have to include a legend, but it can be helpful if you have a lot of different symbols or if you’re drawing to-scale.

And now for the freebie…

Have you ever needed a floor plan or map when writing a story? Now you know how to make your own! And to help you out with that, I decided to share this freebie…

Download this printable map page with gridlines and a compass. It’s great for both maps and floor plans. (It’s also sold as a fold-out module for WriteMind Planners, printed on heavy, cream-colored cardstock.)


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