Here we will discuss all of the possibilities concerning rivers inyour map. You will learn to draw them (hopefully) and learn to discernwhere to place them, how they react to each other, etc. This section willbe fairly long, for rivers are in my opinion the most complex part of themap. 

How to draw rivers: 

Well, that's a hard one to answer. Some professionals prefer the methodof drawing rivers like thin lakes, but I truly dislike that practice andwill discuss it only a little. Until then, let's study the nature of rivers. 

    Rivers are: 
  • Long. They can travel quite a ways in their lifetime.
  • Thin. This is why I do not agree with Shelly Shapiro's river method.
  • Winding. Rivers twist and turn in an unpredictable way. (Not trulyunpredictable, but to the layman a mystery.)
  • Connected to other water. The only exception to this is the mountain run-offrivers that meander into the middle of a lowland and stop.
  • Uniform. Rivers never criss-cross each other.
  • Surrounded by life. If a river is in a fertile soil, and there is no droughtor plague of flora, there should be plants surrounding it.
That is a small list of the basic principles of rivers. Remember these,for they are essential to a successful map. 

  How rivers form 

Rivers form from rain, floods, tsunami's, etc. The strata in which theriver forms determines how the river will look and act. Here is a listof the most common strata and their effect: 

  • Rocky - The river will not twist so much, and will be narrow and quick.
  • Sandy - The river will be shallow and wide, and will turn frequently.
  • Muddy - Look for a slow, twisting river that is shallow at the edges anddeep in the channel.
  • Gravel - The river will flow swiftly and shallowly, and at the turns lookfor deep holes in the floor of the river. There will be gravel bars atthe larger turns.
How rivers act 

Rivers eat away the land around them at an unpredictable pace. Somerivers grow into huge behemoths very quickly, and then fade when theirsource disappears. Other, smaller rivers continually flow at a predictablepace, and therefore develope no flood plain. See the above list of strataand try to determine which strata support which types of rivers. 

Rivers flow down. I cannot emphasize this any more. It is important!Any map which has a river flowing out of the mountains, into a valley,and then up out of the valley and back into the mountains is a joke. Oneconsideration I must accept as a possibility (in a fantasy world, of course)is that the river is enchanted to flow uphill. There are, however, no endto these types of rivers in fantasy novels, and I would warn against usingthem. 

Rivers flow into the sea, not out of it. This is, suprisingly, a verycommon misconception. They really do look like they find their source atthe sea. But that is wrong. Very few (zero) rivers flow out of thesea, that I know of. I could be wrong. Just make sure that you understandhow rivers connect to form ever larger rivers, which eventually flow tothe sea or die out. 

Research and development 

It's back to the books, and this time with an eye on rivers. With yournewfound eye for style, seek out the types of rivers that you like. Theyshould agree with the above guidelines, but if they don't... hey, it'syour map, right? I recommend tracing the rivers (!) to get feelfor them. Normally I would advise you to practice free form, but riversare an exception to that, due to their difficulty. A few books that I finduseful are all of the Belgariad and Mallorean books (© David Eddings),the Tolkien trilogy and supplements, and any other book with maps of acertain style that you like. I included the Belgariad and Mallorean series'because they give you a good dose of Shelly Shapiro's lake-rivers. Theyhave a certain style all their own... 

Practise the styles you enjoy until you see your own style developing,then go with it. Wait until you see your style's flaws, and improve onit. In this way you can learn to draw acceptable rivers. 

Hints and tips 

  • Rivers are like trees, with branches and a trunk.
  • Rivers do not wiggle back and forth like a snake. They twist withthe land, and have large, central turns that contain the smaller, precisetwists.
  • Rivers get larger when another "branch" joins in. Remember, the river nowhas that much extra water to carry.
  • When rivers branch off, the ground near the partition tends to be waterlogged.What an opportune place for a swamp to grow!

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