In my explorations of my Elivera universe, I draw a lot of maps. I find them not only to be useful in keeping track of the layout of cities my characters visit, but also to help me understand aspects of their society.
To start, I often will draw a zoning map, like the one I made for Supki a city within the Sunik Clan: Supki in the Sunik Clan, Zoning Map
Here you can see that the city is actually built inside and along the edge of a mountain. The top layer is actually near the top of the mountain and is exposed to air. The bottom layer has an exit that leads outside, but the rest of the city is encased within the mountain itself. There are shafts of light that go through all four layers in order to produce some sunlight into the lower layers. I mark each of the zones, labeling them all carefully. On a separate pad of paper, I proceed to outline some of the basic architectural designs of the buildings within each zone, some notable features of the cityscape, and any interesting public art.
All of my cities are built in this manner, where I first create a zoning map and then go into detail from there.
I also create topographic maps of the landscape to help give me a clear indication of the elevations of various parts of the terrain, how rough or smooth it is, and if there is any depressions, lakes, rivers, or canyons. They’re relatively easy to draw and hold a swathe of information. Here is a link (from a lab course) on how to draw one: Topographic Maps; you don’t need to read all of it since some of the exercises pertain to a particular university, but the techniques explained on pages three through five are the techniques I use for my own topographic maps. If I need to go back to one of my topographic maps and draw a profile, to give myself a reminder of how the landscape looks to the character, I use this process: Topographic Profiles.
Here is one of my finished topographic maps: Topographic Map of Kavori (not on Elivera but one of its colonies). As you can notice to the north there is mountains, and a few sharp cliffs to the southern coast, but middle of the continent is plains and or forests with some rivers and a few lakes.
Another useful map deals with weather patterns, in particular temperature, wind speed, pressure, ect. This tutorial explains how to draw one and how to interpret it: Drawing and Interpreting Contours. The idea behind drawing a Contour map for weather is fairly similar to topographic maps; the main difference is the gradient across several contour lines is often called slope in a topographic map. The only problem with weather maps is that weather changes swiftly and is not a constant. Although topographic maps could essentially change as well, these changes take place over thousands of years; this is a stark contrast to a weather map, which can change in a manner of minutes to an hour. I only draw them if a scene will involve storms or other weather-related activities that directly influence the characters.
With these maps, it’s a lot easier to create a firm picture of the world in my head, so when I sit down to write, I can see what the characters see, and show this to my readers easier. Plus, some of these maps I could refine and polish enough to include with the story itself. My challenge to you, gentle readers, is to craft your own maps for your stories.