Here's my process for creating planetary surfaces. You don't have to do an entire planet. You can just squish together a few plates to make a continent and then decide how far from the equator it is.
- Draw tectonic plates. This can be pretty arbitrary, but you can simulate the shapes by examining the shapes of clusters of bubbles in dish water.
- Squish the plates together like sponges. Put mountains where the plates meet. Draw in a continental divide, as rugged as you want.
- Draw rivers going from the edges of the mountains to whatever body of water is to the south. Have a lot of tributaries near the mountains combining into big rivers that crawl across the middle of the continent. The idea that most rivers run southward is false, but you do have the problem of rivers freezing if they empty into the arctic circle. Dig canyons and erode mountains around the rivers. Add glaciers where the rivers actually climb up the mountains. If the rivers can't make it to an ocean, make a lake grow until it can. That's how the Mediterranean Sea was made.
- Hadley cells result in air flowing away from large bodies of water. Planetary rotation then causes it to go East to West. Sketch in these wind lines.
- When the air flows hit mountains, drop moisture. This makes costal areas near mountains wetter. Downwind of mountains become deserts, so the rivers will be smaller seasonal things in those areas. One of the most common road names in eastern Colorado is "dry creek road".
- Temperature and humidity make biomes, so draw in your biomes. Plains, forest, desert, tundra, high plains desert, jungle, etc.
- Add cities. Cities will form near water:
- highest navigable point on a river
- where rivers dump into oceans and seas
- along the edge of any major body of water, especially natural indentations which make good harbors
They'll also form where resources can be gathered for transportation. These also tend to be on rivers, at the edges of mountains, forests, and plains.
- Add civilization. If you've ever played rail games, you know that railways boost trade. Consider long rivers and large bodies of water to be a contiguous railroad for empire building and trade purposes. Rivers are hard to cross with armies, so put smaller territory boundaries and boundaries far from the seat of power on rivers where possible. Mountain ridges are always a natural boundary to civilization.
If your map fails to follow these patterns, for instance if you have an extreme transition of temperature or humidity zones, or you use water as a boundary for civilizations instead of a path for them, then it will look weird.